There is nothing like a skills shortage to concentrate the attention of organizations on the issue of neglected sources of talent. However, the challenge is not only to address the skills shortages, but also to create a working environment that will enable the under-represented and everyone to flourish. This requires an investment in upskilling the whole team’s soft skills and knowledge to truly reap the benefits of diversity given the challenges for working with people different to ourselves.
At the recent Women in Technology conference organized by the E-Westminster Forum many of the speakers focused on how to encourage more young women to consider technology careers or how to attract women into technology, however, I believe the challenge goes deeper. We have to not only make technology attractive to hire women and BME’s, but also make the technology workplace a place where they can flourish and thrive. This will create a virtuous circle of not only retaining, but enabling people to build skills and careers and demonstrate ‘tech’ is where you can realise your dreams and aspirations. In short, it builds a better ‘employer proposition’ based on inclusion and diversity.
Now is a great time to work in technology, there is a huge demand for skills and technology is profoundly changing the way we live our lives. However, despite being a relatively new industry ‘Tech’ companies seem in some respects to be run in traditional ways and many ‘techie’ cultures are based on mainly male perspectives. If, new hires are simply required to ‘fit in’ to the prevailing culture, it is highly likely they will leave or if they do stay they will not thrive and flourish. A recent survey of Silicon Valley ‘tech’ companies  showed just how difficult life can be for women in these companies. For example, 66% felt excluded from key social and networking opportunities because of their gender; 90% of women have witnessed sexist behavior; 84% have been told they were too aggressive; 88% experienced questions being addressed to male peers that should be addressed to them; 75% women were asked about their family life, marital status and children in interviews; 60% reported unwanted sexual advances and 60% were dissatisfied with the way their sexual harassment concerns were handled. BME experiences of the technology sector are also heavily biased, African Americans are poorly represented in USA technology companies, only 1.5% of Facebook’s US workforce, 1.7% in Twitter, just 2% in Yahoo and Google and 7% in Apple
Simply tackling the lack of gender and BME diversity during recruitment is like putting water in a bucket with a hole, the practices of existing management and unconscious bias may have only taken thirty years to develop in the technology sector, but are unlikely to disappear overnight, without significant intervention and commitment. There is a need for training and development to support a strategic workforce plan and a clear diverse and inclusive employee proposition. This should include: developing empathy, coaching, mentoring and advocacy skills; managing conflict through facilitation and mediation skills; robustly investigating diversity-related concerns; increasing awareness of unconscious bias, promoting networking and giving and receiving constructive feedback. The HR function should not just focus on recruitment campaigns, but build HR policies and practices which position mutual respect, diversity and inclusion as a means to attract, retain and build a smarter, fairer and more effective workplace for all. Then “tech’ can truly claim to be building a better world and not just a better gadget or app.
Why not share what you are doing to move the diversity agenda forward in your organisation or discuss how you can overcome some of the challenges?
References: Exploring the IT Skills Gap 2016 Survey – TEKsystems.com; [2 ElephantInTheValley.com – Survey;  Black Politicians to push Silicon Valley giants on ‘appalling’ diversity. Guardian 30 July 2015.
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