What the Women’s World Cup can teach us about improving diversity in tech

By the time the final match played out, the 2019 Women’s World Cup had already become a tipping point for gender diversity in football. Can the lessons learnt also help improve diversity in tech asks Deltatre?

More fans tuned in to watch the games than ever before, with major brands backing the event and promoting its success. For the players and the fans that supported them, the tournament became as much about athletic greatness on a global scale as it did about eradicating the gender divide within the sport itself.

Tackling diversity in tech

However, while it was a significant step in the right direction for how the sports industry is tackling this critical issue, the Women’s World Cup highlighted just how much work still needs to be done in other sectors to address the imbalance. Not least when it comes to diversity in tech.

It’s indisputable that in recent years there has been a substantial shift in how employers across all sectors view diversity and equality. Steps have been taken to tackle this issue in all aspects too, not just gender. But implementation remains a stumbling block for many organisations and particularly in traditionally male-dominated industries such as technology – despite its close connection with the evolving world of modern sport.

Yet effective implementation of diversity initiatives has been proven to have a tangible link to business success. There are many benefits to diverse leadership teams, not only for employee retention but also overall company growth and the bottom line.

In fact, a recent McKinsey report showed the most successful businesses when it comes to diversity are 15% more likely to have above average financial returns, and companies in the bottom quarter for gender equality are statistically less likely to hit their financial goals. In essence, diversity has become a competitive differentiator in business.

>See also: Why IT leaders can have a huge influence on increasing diversity in tech

How diversity improves the (business) playing field

Getting a diverse team structure right is what encourages year-on-year growth, particularly in technology, and there are already countless initiatives to encourage this. From Women who Code groups to recruitment drives supportive of unrepresented demographics, much is being done to encourage diversity in the hiring process. However, getting the best out of those employees once they join and retaining them over the long term is a different matter.

Working in a company that straddles two industries historically seen as ‘pale and male’ – sport and technology – I can say with confidence that the answer to successful diversity initiatives lies with the nature of the business. It has also become apparent during my time at Deltatre that although diversity needs to be part of business culture to be successful, getting this right isn’t about hitting a fixed percentage figure for how many people in the company are female or come from a BAME background. When it comes to improving diversity in tech, in particular, the answer lies in adopting a family-inspired approach to active inclusion.

Better business DNA: Why the ‘family model’ is so important

Much like a football team, companies start off feeling like a close-knit family and performing optimally as a result. However, unlike football, this dynamic doesn’t often last that long in business. Although a family feel is essential in a company’s early years, this often disappears as a business grows. Yet in my experience, retaining what Deltatre calls the ‘family model’ beyond the early years has been vital to its ongoing success – and has had a knock-on effect for diversity and active inclusion, too.

Families are built on the very notion of inclusion, which is also an important trait in business. With this mindset in place within a company, it becomes much easier to nurture talent when it arrives and retain the diverse workforce it’ll naturally create over time. And keeping this family model alive depends on not losing that close-knit, inclusive feel as the business grows.

A practical way to achieve this, and thereby improve diversity in tech companies, is to blend working groups together based on people from different backgrounds in order to drive collaboration and engagement. After all, family is where someone is able to be themselves and their differences are embraced and valued. In a diverse team, therefore, where each member can bring a different view to the table, it becomes much easier for everyone to feel heard.

It’s a concept that is important for any company, but especially those operating in the sports, technology, and creative industries. Here, projects that are brought to fruition often reach billions of people and, in the case of live sport and entertainment, present no room for error. As innovation is often the underlying currency for success in an industry like this, getting a diversity approach like the family model right is not only vital for developing stellar workplace cultures, it is also good for business.

>See also: If the digital revolution is to benefit everyone, we need diversity in tech

Setting up the family model for success

Putting the systems in place to develop a team that’s engaged, capable of bringing many different ideas to the table, and able to spark off each other, is what drives success for the businesses that are able to build and retain it. Having the CEO’s door be always open is a good place to start, yet hugely successful businesses will go much further. By encouraging flexibility and autonomy in the personal development of team members and using the concept of the family model to encourage employees to pool and share ideas, diversity and inclusion will result in teams that work more creatively and effectively. This is also an environment that will foster innovation, which is hugely important in creative industries.

In part, it comes down to asking the right questions: Do employees know where to turn to take on a new responsibility? Are employees from diverse backgrounds given the same support to grow their careers and move into new positions? And are they given the chance to move outside the original job role they were hired for if they show an aptitude and interest elsewhere in the business?

Expertise and prior experiences are important, too. We’ve found that by having company leaders who have worked on the front line, and know how the industry operates, helps strengthen the bond between teams in a way that delivers a better end product. Connected to this, diversity, in terms of team experiences and points of view, also has a role to play in how a product is shaped. In sports technology, for example, products explicitly created for diverse consumer audiences benefit from having a mixture of voices from a wide range of backgrounds guiding their development.

Bringing everything together

The best time to bake the family model into a company is at the beginning, but the next best time is now. For diversity to truly benefit an organisation it cannot feel forced. Tackling it with the family model allows staff to feel like they’re not just cogs in a machine – the enemy of creativity and innovation – and instead are valued as employees and, more importantly, as people.

2019 has become a pivotal year for companies to recognise this and to double down on their own initiatives, using those to heighten diversity in their ranks. With culturally relevant events such as the Women’s World Cup building equality both on and off the pitch, the business world would be wise to follow suit. By expanding existing initiatives and using that momentum to help address the issue, diversity in tech can be dramatically improved for future generations in years to come.

>See also: Diversity in tech is essential for business success: How to achieve it?

About the Author

Chiara Greco, Chief Human Resources Officer at Deltatre

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