Increasing D&I in technology — a how-to-guide

There is currently a skills shortage in the UK, and technology is one of the sectors with a yawning gap between required and available skills. In May 2021, the UK Government published research that shows there are 178,000 to 234,000 unfilled tech roles, with 46% of businesses struggling to recruit the technology talent they need.

It clearly isn’t possible to train that many new entrants to the job market with the required skills, in time to meet current demand, but that doesn’t mean the tech talent isn’t out there. Increasing diversity and inclusion (D&I) within organisations that employ tech professionals is of course the right thing to do, reflecting the shift towards a more representative workforce in the UK generally and fulfilling compliance requirements. But the skills shortage now means prioritising D&I is has become an essential business strategy for growth and even survival.

Diversity is also recognised as a significant factor in driving greater innovation, creativity, problem-solving and overall business success. Different experiences, backgrounds and opinions drive fresh ideas and position challenge as an essential part of growth and development. Hiring strategies that prioritise increasing D&I within the workforce are naturally locating and attracting the best talent, period. This is essential in a world where there aren’t enough good technology professionals to go around.

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Some strategies to help attract a more diverse tech workforce include:

Revisit preconceptions about what a candidate ‘should’ have, in terms of experience or qualifications. Attitude and propensity to learn may be more important and ultimately result in a better employee.

Do away with CVs, as these describe existing qualifications and experience, so instead use aptitude tests and online tools to identify potential.

Tackle unconscious bias. Some organisations do this by removing things like names and schools attended from the application process, but this isn’t enough. It may bring a larger number of candidates to interview stage, but unless the hiring managers are trained in dealing with unconscious bias, they may apply it during the interview. Appropriate training is key.

Consider recording all interviews and calls so that a wider and more diverse group of managers can review and assess candidates for suitability.

Revisit application processes, as some candidates will have an advantage over others, with guidance and coaching to complete application forms, or better computers and broadband at home. Diversity applies to social and economic background, as these often have a significant influence on opportunity.

Look at the language used when advertising roles to make sure it doesn’t implicitly attract one group over another. Gendered language, for example, words like “competitive” and “confident” may attract more males, while terms like “part of a team” and “keen to learn” may attract more females.

Be careful with imagery as using certain groups like ethnic minorities, women or disabled people in recruitment advertising may seem like a good way to attract those groups, but it can backfire if it looks like tokenism.

Offer flexible working, as some groups, for example those with certain disabilities or single parents, may struggle to work 9-5 in the office. Many tech teams now have employees that are contracted to work from home, giving their organisations access to a much wider geographical talent pool.

Even when companies implement these sorts of methods, success is not guaranteed. It is essential that D&I is embedded in company culture and that all strategies that are intended to attract more diverse groups are authentic.

Candidates will quickly see through any contrived attempts to woo them and walk away. It is important to recognise that people want, and need, to see people like themselves represented at all levels in an organisation if they are to feel like they might fit in. It demonstrates that they can have a viable and prosperous career path within that business.

Some organisations are using diversity pay gap reporting to measure diversity at different levels, providing actionable insights for change. If this is the case, it’s important to communicate these and other D&I initiatives with prospective candidates so they know that increasing diversity is a business goal.

Other organisations that are successfully increasing D&I are engaging with existing employees, giving them a platform to share experiences of conscious and unconscious bias in and outside the workplace, and to contribute to developing policies. For example, they may set up inclusion groups for minorities, including female employees, ethnic minorities, LBGTQ+ people and those with disabilities — including hidden disabilities like autism, to gain insight and develop policies that address some of the issues they face. If the platform is authentic, and people know that what they say and how they feel is being taken seriously, they are empowered to drive further change that, in itself, produces greater D&I within the organisation.

Building a sustainable tech talent pipeline from within is going to be one of the keys to winning in the competition for the best employees, during a skills shortage that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Written by Tomas Coulter, co-founder of Talos360

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