How tech companies are addressing diversity issues

Diversity in tech is a huge and growing issue, and many businesses are taking innovative steps to solve it.

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Technology is one of the most lucrative and fast-growing industries today, but it's also one of the least diverse and inclusive. Research from Diversity in Tech shows that only 15% of tech professionals are black, Asian, or another ethnic minority, while just 19% are women. But although diversity in tech is a huge and growing issue, many businesses are taking innovative steps to solve it.

Shared responsibility is crucial

When diversity and inclusion are concerned, the technology industry is known to be lacking. Dawn Jones, director of policy and external partnerships at Intel, explains that the sector has made slow progress in this area. She tells IDG Connect: "Around 11% of senior leadership roles are held by women, and women of colour make up a staggering 4% of the computing workforce."

As the technology industry continues to face both new and existing challenges, shared responsibility is crucial to making it more diverse and inclusive. She continues: "Today's world is facing a whole host of new challenges which has ushered in a new era of shared responsibility.

"Collective action is needed to combat issues including the deep digital divide, climate change, and global pandemics. We recently launched our 2030 goals raising the bar for ourselves, looking to increase the scale of our work to create a more inclusive and sustainable world, enabled through technology."

Jones explains that defeating the demographic deficit is a major objective at the tech giant. "Intel pledged to increase the number of women in technical roles to 40% and double the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in senior roles by 2030. Ultimately, D&I needs to be the cornerstone of every business," she says.

Taking action

So, what can tech businesses do to address diversity issues throughout their teams and help make the tech industry a better place for all? Rebecca Roycroft, senior director of global emerging talent operations at technology training academy and talent provider Mthree, says businesses must respond by improving how minority groups are represented in the tech industry.

"This can include sourcing talent from diverse educational institutions, reconsidering the 'essential' requirements in job descriptions, offering flexibility, as well as advertising roles to a wider variety of people and, actively encouraging them to apply," she advises.

Businesses can also encourage people of all backgrounds to consider careers in the technology sector by offering apprenticeship and scholarship programmes. She adds: "Finding ways to recruit diverse young talent, in particular, is an extremely effective long-term strategy when it comes to creating a broad workforce to serve the tech industry, and its end users, in years to come."

At big data firm TrueCue, hackathons are an effective way of providing information, advice, and upskilling opportunities to underrepresented groups, such as women. One of its recent hackathons attracted more than 300 participants from 41 countries worldwide and challenged them to analyse coronavirus datasets.

"I was thrilled to see the diverse range of women who signed up to participate, from students to experienced analysts and data scientists. The hackathon was not only designed as a platform for practical learning, but also an opportunity to listen to leading role models in data. I was equally inspired to see how excited participants were to dive into the challenge and work together to demonstrate their soft and technical skills," says Bingqian Gao, data science lead at TrueCue.

"The aim of this hackathon was to show women that like-minded individuals are out there, and I was proud to watch the teams collaborate and lift one another up while achieving remarkable results. The initiative has really shown the importance of having a systematic and structured approach to greater diversity and inclusivity and I hope this experience will have a continued positive effect going forward."

Access to funding

For minority groups looking to grow their tech startups, accessing funding is often a significant obstacle they struggle to overcome. Jess Jackson, head of investment at GC Angels, says: "As highlighted recently in the British Business Bank's 'Together, Alone' report, access to funding can be especially challenging for female and/or Black or other minority ethnic founders seeking to establish and grow their tech start-ups.

"This is the sad result of a number of systemic issues; from lack of diversity present in investment teams, to the decision-making level of funding committees, within angel investor communities, and even visibility of entrepreneurs who have 'made it' already. When these issues are layered on top of under-networked entrepreneurs, it is little wonder that females from ethnic backgrounds are cited as the group most likely to struggle to scale their companies."

But GC Angels is taking action to solve this issue and enable all entrepreneurs to raise crucial growth capital for their technology companies. Jackson says: "Our Diverse Founders pitch event series, alongside our work as part of Fund Her North, helps to create spaces where underrepresented tech founders have exposure, increasing their likelihood of accessing funding and their chances of success later down the line. GC Angels is committed to creating opportunities for all tech founders, through advice, investment readiness support, mentoring, signposting and last but not least, access to capital."

Changing the status quo

Perrine Farque, a diversity and inclusion expert, explains that leadership buy-in is crucial in tackling diversity and inclusion issues throughout the tech sector. "Unless leaders take significant responsibility and action to address the systematic obstacles faced by women in the sector, nothing will change," she says.

"There are many things CEOs and top leadership teams can do, from setting goals tied to monetary compensation, to implementing sponsorship programmes, to setting up Employee Resources Groups, to supporting women-led organisations and vendors, to partnering with specialised gender diversity consultants."

Farque also believes that commitment at a personal level is essential for changing the status quo in the tech industry. She says: "Women can also build their own network by attending meetups, networking events and other conferences, using LinkedIn and attending virtual networking events.

"Women should investigate what career path might be relevant for them in tech as we need many more women of colour and white women in tech to address a lot of the issues that will be coming up in the technology industry."

The technology industry has faced diversity and inclusivity challenges for several decades. While they are still apparent in 2020, it is encouraging that so many tech companies are taking innovative steps to make their own organisations more diverse and spark change across the entire sector.