How to build the diversity that’s needed in tech

Despite continued efforts to promote diversity within the tech sector, women still make up just 16.2% of the UK tech workforce – and hold just 12.6% of board positions.

With the technology sector a significant driver of economic growth and home to many high paying/high-power jobs, the societal impact of this could be significant. Furthermore, this inequity could be hampering companies’ ability to deliver suitable tech products to roughly half of their target audience.

While some software will be targeted at a specific segment, e.g. men, the success of most enterprise software – a market worth $360 billion in 2018 – will depend on its mass appeal.

Companies participating in this market will be at a huge advantage if they’re able to understand how a cross-section people will engage with their technology – and they’ll be far more likely to do this if they have diverse perspectives represented within their design and development teams.

While the rationale behind more diversity in tech is solid, putting this into practice is difficult. We’re still not getting enough girls and young women studying STEM subject at school and university levels, which bleeds up into the workforce. According to UCAS data provided by HESA, just 19% of students studying computer sciences related degrees in 2018 were female.

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Overcoming this and related issues won’t be easy – and improvements certainly won’t be achieved quickly. But this doesn’t mean we should not try – especially when the societal and business benefits can be so significant. Throughout my career I’ve borne witness to these and continued to strive for diversity within my teams, chiefly by living by the below rules:

Build diversity in all its forms

As demonstrated above, we have a long way to go before we reach gender equity in the tech sector, but women are not the only minority group.

According to recent figures, the US high tech sector is skewed towards white and Asian Americans, with proportionately fewer African American and Hispanic individuals compared to overall private industry.

Ageism also seems to be a problem. Research indicates that 41% of IT and tech-sector workers have observed age discrimination in the workplace, compared with the 27% average across other UK industries. The same research suggests that workers are considered ‘too old’ for the tech industry by 38.

To me, the above is preposterous. How can years of experience in the workplace be anything less than a positive attribute? If an individual is unwilling to experiment and adopt new processes, then their suitability should be questioned, but experience and agility are by no means mutually exclusive. It’s imperative that organisations address any tendencies to hire individuals based on superficial criteria; their age, colour or where they went to school. Failure to do so will only entrench cultural issues, lead to a homogenous workforce and lessen the probability of innovation and creativity.

Bring the best on board

When hiring at a tech organisation, it’s easy to look for a degree in computer sciences, but not all roles demand technical experience. Different backgrounds and specialities all contribute to a richer development process and better end-product.

I didn’t grow up wanting to specialise in user experience; I actually studied for a seemingly unrelated psychology degree. However, what this did give me was a fascination with people. I love studying how individuals perceive things and behave in different situations, and this turned out to be the perfect foundation for a career in user experience.

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Thanks to my own experience, I now work a little bit harder to understand potential recruits’ motivations and what they could bring to my team. As a result, I now have colleagues that have worked in interior design and boarder control. Both are skilled at understanding how people move through spaces (physical or virtual) and bring valuable perspectives to the team.

Be aware of alienation

If tech organisations truly want diversity within the workforce – and all the benefits that these will bring – they must work on creating an inclusive company and team culture. This can be bought to life or turned to dust in numerous ways.

Organisations are becoming a lot more considerate about things like team building activities, avoiding things like golf, which requires a level of experience, and instead opting for more egalitarian activities, such as bowling. We’re also seeing the evolution of the tech workplace, with more spaces created for minority workforce segments, including lactation and prayer rooms. While these might not be used frequently, they do demonstrate the business’ commitment to becoming a more inclusive employer.

At a team level, I am a big advocate for avoiding technical jargon, as this can exclude people from non-technical backgrounds. This approach can take marginally longer, but the gains in team cohesion are infinitely greater.

A more diverse future

While much work remains to be done to improve diversity in the tech sector, we cannot let up in our efforts. Fundamentally, technology has the ability to level the playing field in so many ways; providing access to information and enabling people to work from any location. However, it will only live up to its potential if we can design and develop enterprise software that truly meets the needs of everyone.

Written by Daniela Aramu, head of user experience at Thomsons Online Benefits

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