Hear what you can do to help your organisation be more inclusive
Despite diversity and inclusion being more talked about than ever, technology remains a narrow, unequal workforce. More than 60% of black professionals encounter barriers when trying to enter the tech profession and women make up just 26% of the UK tech workforce.
Hear from Ten10 Client Partner Leah Yohans as she explains the current state of diversity in the UK tech industry, the barriers that stand in the way of progress, and what steps tech companies should take to improve diversity within their organisations.
Leah, thank you very much for sharing your time today.
Thank you so much for having me, James, really excited.
Let’s get right into it. Can you describe the current state of diversity in the tech industry?
I think that’s a big question and how I’d like to look at it, especially in our space and where we work, is looking at the UK tech job market. It’s projected to be about £30 billion by 2025. I think Code First Girls did some research recently: there’ll be one qualified woman for every 115 roles by 2025, so we’ve got a huge way to go. And if you just look at that pot of money, you can see where the problem is.
There are different ways of looking at it, to be fair. I think having a more diverse talent acquisition pipeline is a really important way to go. But there are huge benefits to that. The added benefit of a diverse talent acquisition pipeline is that new hires are bringing in that diversity of thought, and that’s why I think it’s really important to talk about: that diversity of thought piece. You know, the experience of background in the tech space, that kind of diversity has proven to help teams develop more robust products, to be honest, which in turn helps companies to be more disruptive in the market.
So if we look at how bias has plagued the AI field for years – FCA created a report in partnership with the Alan Turing Institute and they just looked at the principles of inclusion and diversity, and how they’re kind of key to building better AI. It just got me thinking about huge products, like Snapchat filters and how they would only recognise white people, for example. There’s a huge debate going on on Twitter when some Snapchat filters were just released. I think Barack Obama published his and he was portrayed as a white man. Quite a few famous people had similar problems. So if you look at that from the wider general problem, not just from the tech workforce perspective, that’s how it’s affecting the world.
I did a podcast a couple of years ago with Suki Fuller who is a great woman, she was named Computer Weekly’s Fifth Most Influential Woman in Tech. She was telling me on that podcast that she was part of the team that did the first automated hand sanitisers that went across the UK airports, years ago. But they weren’t releasing hand sanitisers for black hands, because it was only recognising white hands. And that’s because the research that was done in those tech teams was only looked at from a market research perspective around white hands. So that’s the knock-on effect, essentially, of not having diverse tech teams.
Yeah, that’s fantastic. Obviously, I ask that question and I think about getting black people into tech, getting more women into tech, and having a diverse workforce. And you cross your fingers and hope that that is a first step to making all of the products and services completely inclusive. Because, unfortunately, if you build a team that is just one set person – whether that team is two people or 10 people – they’re all going to approach the product or service with one mindset. So that diversity of thought, as you said, is incredibly important. Now, we know that diversity in tech has been quite a long-standing issue so what would you say are the main barriers to increasing diversity in tech?
Really good question. I think the problem probably lies in – I was reading this article by CIO.com. And they spoke to I think it was about a couple dozen black women across the UK, large blue chip and investment banks and large companies across the UK, and a lot of the feedback was that black women felt, for example, that they’d been passed over for promotion and struggling to actually fit into the workplace culture.
So it’s less about the diversity of a company and sometimes it’s more about the inclusion that that company provides for the people. And there are a couple of articles that have just been released in the last couple of days talking about how a lot of the layoffs across the UK workforces, especially in tech, the black community are hit the hardest by that and I think there’s something to say about the inclusion of black people in the workforce, especially in tech workforces to where when you’re looking at layoffs, and redundancies, a lot of the minority communities are affected the most. And I think when you have a less inclusive community in a workplace, you are less likely to relate to those people, sympathise, empathise, and understand a lot of that their skills and their strengths.
The BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Coding Black Females reported about the experience of black women in the IT industry in the UK. I think it was something like 0.7% of black women in the UK working in the IT industry compared to 1.8% across the entire UK workforce. And again, 3.2% of black people in total work in IT. So I think it’s hard to get (I’m speaking specifically about black people right now) into the tech workforce when that inclusivity piece isn’t there. So I think it’s just about showing your employees of all backgrounds, all ethnicities, all cultures, and all races, that we do care about you once you’re here.
You’ve bled into my next question a little bit but that is a really good point: what are the steps that tech companies can take to improve diversity in their organisations? Because I’d love to say that tech has the potential and we can make progress and we can overcome the diversity problems there. And we have seen some steps. But, obviously, those steps just aren’t enough, we need to reach equality. So what steps do you think tech companies should start taking to improve diversity in their organisations?
I think you’ve got to look at things from both ends of the funnel: from your junior talent perspective, but also the senior end. There’s a low amount of ethnic minorities at the board level of companies. But, equally, the junior talent pipeline is not looking very good as well for those companies. So it’s looking at things from both ends of the funnel and seeing things from a very holistic point of view.
I love, at Ten10, how good we are looking at those different diversity pieces. So for example, career changes, not just juniors, we’re looking at people coming from different backgrounds. Again, looking at that depth of diversity of thought piece, it’s really important to look at how inclusive every single angle of diversity is. So career changers, people who speak different languages or come from different areas of the world. And I guess it’s looking at companies that can partner with these big workforces, and help to implement that long-term capability for companies.
A lot of the time people are looking at that from the junior end of the spectrum. But I think, and again, what I appreciate about Ten10 is it’s not just about junior talent, it’s about all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds and experience coming in and bringing in diversity. But I think companies really need to look at partnering with a lot more people who actually care and who can bring those numbers in for them.
Super. Well, thanks so much for sharing your experiences and hopefully sharing some advice that our listeners can take away and start taking those steps to improve. It is such a big task – it is a challenging task for people in power, all through an organisation to look at the situation that they’re working in and think ‘it needs to change and we need to be more inclusive’ – but hopefully they can take your advice on and start taking steps. So thank you again.
Of course. Thank you.