Tech Talent Charter: Tackling gender diversity in tech through collaboration

The Tech Talent Charter — partner of Information Age’s Women in IT Awards Series — has done something that few diversity initiatives can claim: bring business competitors together to share data and collaborate for one purpose: to end the gender gap prevalent in the technology sector.

In a first-of-its-kind report, the TTC has collated data from across large corporates to start-ups, which provides practical insights — or best practice tips — in helping close the gender gap.

In late 2017, I attended the Tech Talent Charter’s first annual event at the top of the Gherkin. Then, the diversity initiative announced its 90th signatory. Today, there are over 200. But, as Debbie Forster — CEO of Tech Talent Charter — told me, “we’re ahead of the pack, but there is still along way to go.”

The fight (and I use that word carefully) to close the gender gap is fraught with obstacles: recruitment practice, cultural change etcetera. But, the report released today will help companies — who care about diversity — to improve the inclusion practices.

Gathered from over 200 signatories representing over half a million employees, the data in the report gives a snapshot of today’s tech industry and an insight into practical ways companies can improve it:

● Across TTC’s signatories women hold 26% of technical roles compared with 19% UK wide — micro businesses are found to be the most gender diverse with women holding 53% of technical roles.

● 71% of signatories already have active diversity and inclusion policies as part of their recruitment approach. 27% don’t, but are putting them in place in the next year.

● 36% of signatories already have policies in place to increase the number of women included in interview shortlists, with 32% saying they will be adding this in 2019.

● 57% of signatories outsource some or all of their technical roles.

The report, sponsored by techUK, BAE Systems and DCMS was released at a breakfast event at the dizzying heights of the Gherkin this morning. The event was hosted by Lloyds Banking Group, HP, Monster and Cogeco Peer One.

The current state of play

When broken down into job roles, it is clear that there remains specific technology specialisms where women are less represented.

User-centered design had the highest proportion of women (48%) and Engineer and Programmer had the lowest proportion (15%). There were no surprises here, according to the report, as it is well known that the engineering sector specifically struggles to attract and retain women.

(Industrywide – % of positions held by women)

• User-centered design – 48%

• Production and delivery roles – 33%

• Data roles – 31%

• QAT analyst roles – 26%

• IT operations roles – 25%

• Engineer/Programmer roles – 15%

The Tech Talent Charter and it’s mission to tackle gender imbalance

In it’s first annual event, the Tech Talent Charter announced it has received Government funding as it welcomes its 90th signatory at a launch event in the dizzying heights of the Gherkin. Read here

Does size matter in gender diversity?

Yes, is the answer.

The data collected shows clear differences between the size of an organisation and its gender representation in technology roles. However, no clear trend was found between size and gender representation.

Surprisingly, the micro-companies (or digital native, culturally progressive start-ups) had the highest representation with 53% of all technical roles held by women, in comparison with small companies at 20%, medium at 23% and large at 19%.

Zoe Amar, founder and director of micro-business Zoe Amar Digital, said: “There is an arms race for employees with good tech skills and all organisations need to think creatively about how to attract them. 92% of my team are women and as I founded my social enterprise when I had a toddler and a baby I knew how important it was to offer flexible work, so I could create more opportunities for women in tech.

“We use online tools to communicate and manage projects virtually, enabling my team to work easily from anywhere, but also to balance this alongside other professional or family commitments. More organisations need to work in this agile way, doing so has helped us punch above our weight and undertake exciting projects such as developing The Charity Digital Code of Practice.

“This year we plan to grow our team again and develop their leadership skills further so we can inspire more women into careers in tech.”

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Abbie Morris, founder and CEO at micro-business Compare Ethics, also commented: “We currently have an almost even split of male and female employees. Within a few hires from now, I know how easily this balance can slip away.

“As a female founder, I am committed to maintaining this strong diversity balance as we grow. Gender plays a crucial role in achieving diversity of thought, among other important issues such as: socio-economic background, age range, education and cultures. To better unearth hidden talents when hiring, we use blank screening where we can and always take time to dig deep into applicants.

“For 2019, we are focusing on building up our team, with diversity of thought firmly at the front of our minds. To emulate the success of micro businesses, larger companies need to do the same.”

Forster said: “We are delighted to see our smaller companies challenging assumptions that they are too small or too busy to focus on diversity. This report clearly shows every size and type of company can and must become more inclusive and diverse.

“The key is learning from each other. At our events across the country our smaller companies are helping larger companies find ways of ‘thinking like a start-up’, to pilot smaller scale-approaches and then scaling them, rather than waiting to create the perfect solution and then trickle it down.”

Debbie Forster has been working tirelessly to improve the levels of gender diversity in tech.
Debbie Forster has been working tirelessly to improve the levels of gender diversity in tech.

Gender inclusion and diversity policies: Best practice

The report also collated data on the efforts made by TTC’ signatories to rollout gender inclusion and diversity policies, such as phasing out all-male job interview shortlists.

The overwhelming majority of signatories have an active policy in place already (70.71%) or plan to roll out such policies in the coming year (27.27%).

Over a third (36%) of signatories also already have policies in place to increase the number of women in included in interview shortlists, with 32% saying they will be adding this in 2019.

The remaining 2% of signatories – those without policies in place or planned – gave a variety of reasons why this was the case, primarily that diversity and inclusion underpins their approach to recruitment already and they see no need for a formal policy.

Gill Wylie, enterprise transformation director, Lloyds Banking Group, commented: “Being able to attract, develop, fully utilise and retain top female talent is highly important to us, and we have set a target for 40% of our senior roles to be held by women by 2020. We are proud to work with the Tech Talent Charter to promote roles of women in technology, throughout the length and breadth of the UK. This is just one of the ways we are helping Britain prosper.”

Forster, our host this morning and for this article, continued: “We believe that, first and foremost, any policy that is implemented should align with a company’s unique culture. If a policy cannot fully capture company culture, businesses should focus on identifying the metrics and measurements that will set them up for sustainable progress. Our members know that if you genuinely build an inclusive culture, diversity will follow. Policies can and should underpin culture but the culture is the essential component.”

Focus for 2019

The report also found that over half (57%) of Tech Talent Charter’s signatories outsource all or some of their technology roles to a third party. This highlights that companies need to look beyond their own walls to ensure gender parity.

‘As the Charter develops and expands, it is our intention to work more closely with the outsourcing companies,’ said the report. ‘There is a responsibility for employers who are calling for meaningful diversity in their own teams to also be aware of the diversity within their supply chain, and ask more of their outsourcing partners.’

Looking to the future, Forster says: “We’re delighted to publish our TTC toolkit. For the first time, we’re bringing together sector-wide data that is not just a restating of the problem — it allows companies to measure their own practice against others and to learn from each other to create solutions. We’re also painstakingly documenting existing best practice from across the sector and the huge range of organisations, initiatives and schemes businesses can work with to drive inclusion and diversity themselves.”


Attending the event this morning was the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James.

The DCMS, the first government body to support this initiative, has pledged to help tackle the issue of gender diversity in tech.

James said: “One year on from the launch of the Tech Talent Charter, it’s encouraging to see that there’s real buy-in to improve the diversity of our workforce. However, with only one in five digital tech jobs nationally covered by women there is more work to do to get the balance right.

“Diversity makes good business sense and it’s positive to see smaller companies leading the way. I now want more of our larger companies to sign up to the Charter and commit to getting more women into tech jobs.”

Margot James spoke about the government's support of improving gender levels in tech.
Margot James spoke about the government’s support of improving gender levels in tech.

Signatory comment

Sinead Bunting, European Marketing VP, Monster and founder of the Tech Talent Charter said, “We are pleased to announce that this report shows our signatories are ahead of the curve when it comes to gender representation, but aren’t resting on their laurels and are still determined to improve even further. Even those without policies or targets already in place have plans to put them in place for 2019 to bring about further change.

“However, industry wide it is clear we still have a long way to go. We want to really move the dial in 2019, and to do this we must focus on collaborating to find practical solutions to age-old problems like retraining, returners and recruitment.”

Julian David, CEO of techUK, also said: “As the UK economy digitises, technical roles will be needed in every sector, so all employers must do more to attract and retain diverse talent in these roles, wherever they are. All business are different and as techUK — an organisation representing over 900 members — we completely understand that all companies will have different methods to improve their diversity. What is important is our shared responsibility as employers across all sectors to improve the gender representation of our technical workforces for the common good.”

For your business

All the work the Tech Talent Charter has done with its UK wide members to pinpoint the policies and practices that can really move the dial on gender diversity in tech are available for any business to read and learn from in The Open Playbook for Best Practice.

The Open Playbook for Best Practice is an open source document with tips and insights from businesses and recruiters sharing what has worked well in their diversity journey. It covers four key topics: Returners & Retraining; Retention & Growth; Recruitment and Culture and contains a section on other resources that are available for members to use. This resource will continue to grow as we hold more regional events throughout 2019 and insert our members’ learnings.

The Tech Talent Charter has also compiled a searchable and sortable Diversity Directory containing over 300 programmes that employers can draw on to support them in driving inclusion and diversity in their companies.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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