Lysa Campbell, CEO at Retail Marketing Group discuses the current state of diversity in tech
Over the last few years diversity in the tech industry has slowly been improving; it is clear that companies have been trying to take steps in the right direction to become more inclusive through various initiatives. This is shown through companies like Cisco and Microsoft who have taken huge strides in advocating for women in tech and for promoting values of multiculturalism. But are these initiatives enough?
When it comes to diversity, there are so many aspects and people to consider; companies can’t just choose one and claim that they are diverse. Though a company can be a huge advocate for women, on the other side of the scale they could also be seen to discriminate against older people. Other tech companies have also been seen to have a serious lack in their diversity of thought, as well as a ‘boys club’ culture.
How can companies positively improve their diversity?
When looking at the overall performance of diversity in any industry, the main sector that is highlighted to have the worst performance has always been tech. A primary reason for this is that for a long time the narrative for recruiting in the tech industry, especially coding and computing, has always been ‘it’s for boys’. To change this narrative, schools and companies have been taking steps to educate and inform the younger generations through reinforcement of STEM subjects and initiatives primarily for women. Yet, even these subjects are restrictive in their teachings of the wider industry and the multitude of opportunities and roles that are available.
On the other side, retained employees are seeing less activity when it comes to addressing diversity in the workplace. This last year has thrown a huge hit to the tech industry as a whole, with millions of people being put on furlough and some being made redundant. McKinsey & Company’s recent report shows that COVID-19 has, in some areas, widened the gender gap in the workplace, highlighting women’s fear of an increasing ‘double shift’ when it comes to their work and family, compared to that of men.
Elsewhere, employees who identify as LGBTQ+ and BAME are feeling more isolated, reporting higher workloads than their straight and cisgender peers. This has overall impacted their feeling of connection and belonging. It is clear that companies must not only put their focus on recruiting, but turn their eyes internally on how they can improve their working culture.
Tackling the discrepancy
What tech companies need to prioritise in order to positively affect diversity in their ranks is to push understanding and visibility in both recruiting and retaining.
Teaching STEM subjects in schools has done wonders in increasing the level of women in the industry, with the tech sector now hosting 22% of female directors. Yet with only 19% of tech workers being women, it is clear that the ‘it’s for boys’ narrative still prevails. In order to shift away from this mindset, companies need to provide young women with representation, by showcasing female leaders wherever they can.
Tech companies should also look at where they are recruiting and how. Are they appealing to a diverse market through the job description or location of advertisement? It may be that companies are actively looking for a diverse workforce, but where and how they look are holding them back. Simple aspects of a job description can stop people from applying, such as flexibility of the contract, working hours and holiday allowance. In Ireland for example, 56% of women say they are restricted in their career opportunities due to their family lifestyle. Limited holiday and long working hours work against female applicants or those with families.
It is not necessarily always about the big steps with company wide initiatives. An often underestimated aspect that holds tech companies back is diversity of thought: the idea that people in a group don’t need to look different or identify with an underrepresented group in order to bring varying, diverse viewpoints to the table.
It is discussions that come from these thoughts that open people up to better understanding of one another and the world around them. A discussion in the breakroom could teach more cultural understanding for religious employees or even make colleagues aware of your individual background than a company forced webinar. Tech companies need to encourage these conversations, starting with visibility in the leadership roles. This will then filter down to the other employees, allowing transparency and diversity of thought to evolve into a pillar of the workplace culture.
Seize a diverse future
As the world begins to heal and emerge from the events of the last year, tech companies must seize their chance to progress diversity and open themselves up to new avenues of ideas that would come with new perspectives. They must push for a better understanding of their roles and the individuals who they hire, and be visible in their efforts.
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