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Fixing the Lack of Diversity in Tech | A Roundtable Debate

almost 4 years ago by Rebekah Lee


Our latest roundtable shone a spotlight on gender bias and diversity within the technology industry, including the impact it is having today and what can be done to futureproof the work of UK trailblazers. 

The discussion panel, brought together in partnership with the University of Salford, comprised of professionals and innovators from the Manchester Airport Group (MAG), BBC, Siemens, Women in the Law UK and Think Money Group. 

Diversity, equality and inclusion are three codes that the tech industry is yet to crack. Currently, just 17% of tech roles are filled by women, with the sector suffering a lack of representation from hard to reach groups and communities, including different races, sexualities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

This imbalance is affecting most UK businesses, with all parties in unanimous agreement that diversity is a present-day issue and that if we don’t make big changes today and work to close the gap, then UK PLC will decline from a dip in productivity, profits and commercial ability. 

Maria Stukoff, director of the Morson Maker Space at the University of Salford, said: “I cannot believe that in 2018 we are still having to talk about the subject of diversity and inclusion. We can all see the skills gaps and issues within our own organisations and departments but few people are talking about the how and why. 

“My role is to identify the jobs and careers of the future and how we retrain people to create new things, solve issues and develop new collaborative partnerships. We work closely with the Morson Group to build new talent pipelines and especially in attracting more young women into technical careers.”

The event’s first presentation, delivered by MBE Leanne Cooke, CEO and founder of Evolve-IT Consultants, kicked off the debate by examining gender bias and how the root of the problem begins at birth.

“Boys are more inclined to be interested in STEM subjects because they tend to grow up with scientific toys, whereas girls are given kitchens and pink things,” explains Leanne. “As soon as they reach primary school, they already have an awareness of gender bias because of the toys they’ve grown up with and these perceptions are rarely challenged by their teachers.”

“We need to change the mentality of young people to embrace technical interests and aspirations, which requires more input from teachers. Young people learn about IT and technology in schools but they don’t see what careers are available beyond the games and devices.”

The group mutually agreed that teachers do not have enough experience and visibility outside of education as they have always remained in a school environment throughout their training and career. Providing teachers with the tools and insights to become STEM ambassadors and promote the benefits of apprenticeships and on-the-job training is a common theme that has appeared throughout every roundtable table so far, regardless of the topic or sector. Leaving it until secondary school age is often too late, as young people are already heavily influenced by their peers, parents and teachers. 

“Whilst apprenticeships are great and more must be done to promote the benefits to young people, their parents and businesses, there’s still the immediate problem of the present day skills gap,” continues Leanne. “The only way to solve this is to focus less on experience and look for people with the right transferable skills and a desire to learn. The last two people I’ve recruited got the job based on their attitude and will, and they’ve been the best new recruits that I’ve had in a long time.”

Leanne was one of a number of participants to give a present-day example of how they’ve needed to go offshore to find the right skillsets, sourcing talent and support from Eastern Europe and the US, for example.

Unconscious bias training was highlighted as one effective solution to improving the pipeline of talent and boosting diversity. This popular approach reduces natural bias and prejudice of people by highlighting individual skillsets and expertise within the candidate recruitment process and removing any identifier of the person’s age, race, sex, location or background. 

Sam Price, head of client engagement at Morson International, explained: “Anonymising CVs is empowering our clients to build a more diverse workforce by recruiting the right person for the job, regardless of their individual attributes. 

“A few clients were already implementing unconscious bias programmes but failing in their approach, because they were deemed as short-term solutions. Empowering businesses with the tools to succeed is making waves, especially through the use of diversity data. For example, if we’re sending a diverse shortlist of candidates yet none of these are making the cut, then we can see that there’s clear issues within the hiring manager and change is needed.”

Ben Fitzgerald, head of professional services and IT at Morson International, added: “There’s also a big problem in that technology has evolved quicker than commerce and many businesses still expect certain standards. All organisations want superstars and not enough are taking chances on excellent candidates with plenty of ability and will, who can be taught the required technical skills. There are lots of capable and unemployed developers, for example, who are being overlooked by organisations.”

This belief was echoed by Chris Joynson, talent & resourcing partner at MAG who explained that certain departments still look for particular candidate backgrounds, for example, finance requires its team to have experience in one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms; something which it is working to address. 

The Morson Group is committed to pressing for equality, diversity and inclusion within all sectors. We recognise the benefits that a diverse workforce brings for our own business and those of our clients, including innovation, higher commercial earnings and increased productivity. 

In addition to partnering with the Girls’ Network’s Salford division to encourage young women across Salford to fulfil their aspirations by giving them the tools, connections and confidence to pursue their dreams, Morson International has pledged to double the number of female engineers that are employed by 2020. 

Attendees were divided in the effectiveness of quotas and whether there is a need to legislate to deliver effective change. There was a feeling that introducing quotas would bring the impression that those from underrepresented groups, in particular females within male-dominated sectors, were only being employed because of their gender and not their skillset and ability. 

Diane Kennedy, vice president of strategy, architecture and planning at BP and the event’s second speaker, voiced her backing for quotes, explaining that change within large organisations like BP simply wouldn’t happen unless it was a requirement and something that staff were held accountable for.

Diane explained: “My quota is to increase diversity within my own team to 25% by 2022. Three years ago, this figure stood at 11% and I’ve worked hard to reach 18% today. There are hundreds of ongoing initiatives within BP to challenge and boost diversity because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Working with schools at primary school through to university age, apprenticeships, return to work programmes and flexible working are some initiatives that have proven really successful. 

“We also have a top-down policy to drive behavioural change, with inclusion now one of the top five priorities of BP’s chief executive. This shows how important creating an inclusive environment is and even goes as far as saying that the annual bonus you receive will be impacted on how effective the cultural change is within your team and achieving its quotas.”

A number of excellent examples that BP use to attract applicants from underrepresented groups included simple and more concise CVs and changing the language used to ensure it is not gender biased. 

Whilst the oil and gas giant adopts a top-down approach diversity, the room was torn as to whether this cultivates better behavioural change than bottom up. Regardless, everyone was in complete agreement that diversity fosters greater success and profitability and it is an issue that needs addressing today and the right strategies putting into place to overcome both the short and long-term industry needs. 

Together with sister company The Bridge, Morson International has seen its IT division double year-on-year in the response for top talent. Operating from 50 countries around the globe, it delivers diverse skillsets and candidates, and works in partnership with clients to implement the right techniques and methods to embed diversity within their own culture and bring real change.