The business value diversity brings to an organisation is essential in driving innovation and staving off disruption in the customer-focused, digital era.
Diversity extends to gender, race, background and sexual orientation. Historically, a lack of diversity has pervaded the IT and technology industry, but there are steady signs of improvement.
Despite the all-encompassing lack of variety in the sector, this feature will specifically focus on the lack of women in the tech industry. The gender gap is – arguably – the largest that needs to be addressed at both senior and entry levels. In the UK, women make up just 17% of IT roles and in the US, they occupy 25% of computing jobs – with much fewer represented at senior and executive levels.
This persisting problem is being tackled by internal business and wider industry initiatives, and events like the Women in IT Awards. However, there is still a significant way to go before the tech industry can be classed as gender equal.
>See also: AWS championing diversity in technology
‘The tech industry more broadly has room for improvement regarding diversity,’ confirms Slack’s Head of UK, Stuart Templeton. As such, this feature will explore breaking down tech industry stereotypes, how to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects (an education mindset change), the role of government, the importance of female role models and the overall importance of gender diversity in increasing business value.
The technology sector is just for men, it’s a ‘boy’s club’. This idea is something that has detracted many women from considering a career in IT or tech. The perceived image of tech has historically been unattractive and daunting for women – it’s not something often considered as a career path.
It is, therefore, the sector’s responsibility to change this perception. But how? It starts at school.
Girls and STEM
For girls, this perception that the technology industry is not for them is putting them off from studying STEM subjects. The education sector with the backing of the IT and technology industry needs to change this, and encourage girls to study these subjects at school.
‘Equal access to a quality education and training is critical to set up the next generation for success in the future workforce,’ explains Linda Aiello, VP of employee success for
EMEA at Salesforce. ‘At Salesforce, we engage with our local communities by adopting schools, volunteering in classrooms, promoting STEM education and creating job training programs.’
This collaboration is essential in breaking down stereotypes, and in encouraging the next generation of women – from an early age – to take an interest in and develop the right skills to build a career in IT.
Initiatives between schools and tech organisations can show girls what they can achieve in the industry, as well as explain the huge range of roles available.
The digital skills crisis facing the technology sector across the globe has spurred the tech sector into action.
Companies are now realising that they are struggling, because 50% of the population are being overlooked. If Britain’s tech industry is to prosper, the country and businesses should be using the talents of the whole nation.
The cyber security industry is facing a particular challenge. According to a report by ISC in 2017, the information security field will experience a 1.5 million deficit in professionals by 2020. Yet women, who could help to fill that gap, remain massively underrepresented – comprising just 10% of the global workforce. As a result of this economy-hampering problem, governments are stepping in.
In the 2017 Autumn Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond acknowledged the government needed to meet the challenge of tomorrow head on, ‘we need the skills’, he said.
In a range of initiatives, he announced three million apprenticeships to start by 2020, the introduction of the much-anticipated T-levels and a further £20 million for FE colleges to help them to prepare for this.
‘Knowledge of maths is key in hitech, cutting edge jobs,’ continued Hammond. To help entice more students into maths, the Budget will help extend maths initiatives to 3,000 schools and commit 40 million to train math teachers across country.
Computer science is also at heart of the impending revolution, and Hammond announced that every secondary school pupil can now take this, with his plan was to triple the number of trained computer science teachers to 12,000.
But, this does not necessarily solve the problem of addressing the gender imbalance. Recently, the government committed to signing Tech Talent Charter to boost gender diversity in tech roles. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said that ‘it is essential the public sector leads the way in driving this change.’
‘Cracking the challenge is in part about changing the education system but it’s also about changing the culture and opening up.’
How can business achieve better diversity in the workplace?’
‘It’s important to understand your employees by listening to their feedback,’ explains Deborah Sherry, SVP at GE Digital Europe. ‘Open the channels of communications across all levels in your business and create an inclusive environment, which encourages feedback and allows people to speak out. Take their comments into consideration and act on them. It’s invaluable. Scrutinise your organisational structures and try to understand which groups are under or overrepresented. Understand your gaps and fix them by driving positive changes across the business.’
The importance of the female role model
‘The lack of access to female role models is one of the biggest challenges across the whole IT industry,’ says Faith Clayton, head of regional government at Computacenter. This message was reiterated by those who attend the Women in the IT Awards, and active efforts have been taken within the industry to sound out female role models to inspire more women to pursue a career in technology.
How can women become role models? Gavin Jackson, managing director EMEA at AWS, suggests that ‘Taking ownership of a project and running it to conclusion is how anyone will shine. I would say it is the same for how women can become role models: taking ownership of products.’
Identifying inspirational drivers like this is helping close the gender gap and, at the same time, is championing diversity in the tech industry. This is not just because it is the right thing to do, but because diversity adds incredible value to any business, in or out of the technology industry.
Diversity leads to value
There are two fundamental business reasons for adding diversity to the tech workforce at both entry and senior levels.
The first is that having a diverse workforce helps businesses to better understand their customers. Sectors are being disrupted every day, because customers needs are being delivered by more personalised services. Diversity helps produce better products and business ideas for customers. It is, therefore, financially irresponsible to ignore diversity.
In an analysis of over 500 workplaces from INvolve, it uncovered a significant positive correlation between diversity and financial performance. The most diverse workplaces, in terms of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, are 12 percentage points more likely to outperform industry averages than the least diverse businesses.
‘In the end, diversity makes us more innovative and competitive,’ says Laura Selig, VP People at SnapLogic. ‘It allows us to attract and retain top talent, put out a higher quality product, and better understand the evolving needs of our customers.’
Indeed, the research also found that companies with a well-developed diversity policy outperformed national industry average by 15 percentage points. For example a company with a strong diversity policy would actively monitor and measure diversity, recruitment and promotion practices.
Paul Cant, vice president EMEA at BMC Software, concludes that ‘Companies that are inclusive and representative of a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives generate new ideas, new ways of thinking and working, new opportunities and new revenue streams. That benefits customers, investors, employees and ecosystems.’