The top reasons why a lack of diversity in tech remains a problem

Organisations across the tech industry have been looking to promote diversity in the workplace and within hiring strategies. Despite this, a lack of diversity in tech remains a problem — just 15% of the tech workforce are from BAME backgrounds, and gender diversity is currently sitting at 19% compared to 49% for all other jobs.

With a variety of demographics and backgrounds being a vital factor in innovation, we explore the top reasons why a lack of diversity in tech remains a pitfall.

Holes to be filled

There are many aspects of the company pipeline to be considered when tackling a lack of diversity in tech, including driving initial interest in the industry from candidates from underrepresented groups, to building a truly inclusive internal culture. Addressing these entails leaders taking full responsibility for plugging what Laura Smith, head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Bolt, describes as “holes” in the structure.

“It’s easy for companies to view the lack of diversity in tech as a pipeline problem or a legacy issue – it’s a comfortable diagnosis that would mean that it’s someone else’s problem, another area’s fault,” said Smith.

“The uncomfortable truth is that the pipeline and the industry are like a colander: the whole structure has holes. From getting individuals interested into the field, from equitable access to programs and entry-level opportunities, from uncomfortable and unaccommodating cultures that leak diverse talent to a lack of recognition and development of underrepresented individuals that do find their way into organisations, we have so many holes to fill before we start seeing diverse and inclusive workplaces become the norm in tech.”

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Misconceptions to overcome

Working in the tech sector still carries the misconception that a computer science degree and a coding background are prerequisites, but with online courses making upskilling in tech more accessible than ever, many being free to join, this is no longer the case.

A study conducted by Sheekha Singh, QA automation lead at Artisan Studios and author of ‘The IT Girl: 3 Steps to Find Career Options for Young Women in Tech‘, revealed why young women in particular are being put off. Singh surveyed females on their thoughts about the discipline, and found the most common barrier was the misconception that technology is all about coding.

Jayashree Acharia, vice-president, intelligent automation advisory services at Firstsource, explained how this can be mitigated: “To reach gender parity in the sector, businesses need to encourage women to look beyond its coding association and understand how technology can be adapted in their day–to–day roles.

“Here, organisations need to start running practical upskilling initiatives to help women across their business experience the benefits of working in technology first-hand.

“There’s so much more to tech as a discipline, and so businesses need to dispel the myth that it’s dry, complex and void of creativity.”

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A lack of role models

Another commonly cited reason for a lack of diversity in tech is low exposure to positive role models from underrepresented groups. A study by cyber security provider Kaspersky, conducted earlier this year, found that just 19% of women working in tech were inspired to take up their profession by a female role model, while 38% said that a lack of females in the sector made them wary of entering the profession.

“This is a complex issue that goes beyond just hiring a more diverse population; it’s also about educating,” said Riki Goldreich, vice-president of global HR at Radware.

“A lack of role models is one of the reasons there is still a lack of diversity in tech. Positive role models are needed to reach and inspire young people in underrepresented groups from an early age, so they are aware of tech as real option for their futures and understand what their opportunities are. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

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Low venture funding

Ensuring that more role models in tech represent underrepresented groups depends, in part, on companies being founded and led by people from said groups. While progress is being made in some spaces such as GreenTech, a lack of venture funding has made it difficult for marginalised founders to get off the ground.

“While diversity and inclusion in the tech sector has made some headway in recent years, there is still a long way to go. People of colour and women still receive too little venture funding, and tech companies are taking a glacial pace towards diverse workplaces,” said Dr Elizabeth Shaw, founder of 1000 Black Voices.

“It’s also no secret that Black founders have faced hurdles breaking into the technology industry – only 0.24% of UK venture capital investment went to Black founders, a staggeringly low figure considering Black founders show a 30% higher ROI than white founders according to research by NPO.

“The future of the technology industry rests on each individual employee, new founders, and investors to challenge the issues and determine new strategies to combat them. But to do this, reflection and an understanding of how the industry got to this place is imperative. Commitment from the top is essential, not optional or merely a tickbox activity.”

Recruitment biases

A final reason for a lack of diversity in tech to be considered is the presence of biases that are still to be addressed by recruitment departments.

Gabriela Jordão, diversity, equity and inclusion manager at Hootsuite, explained: “Historically, there has not been enough of an impetus placed on honing a diverse approach to finding and retaining diverse talent. A major contributor of this is the geographic concentration of big tech.

“As such, recruiters are looking in the same pools—be it major employment centres or the same colleges and universities. Unlearning these biases when it comes to clustered recruitment in tech is incredibly important.

“As large organisations, we need to recognise that investment in representation is what breeds equity and inclusion. A diverse workforce can help organisations attract top talent and unlock the creativity necessary to build strong internal cultures and drive a sense of belonging amongst an organisation’s people — which in turn strengthens communities.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.