Share Icon Share button for social media Directions icon Directions icon for sliders Directions icon Directions Down for banner

We use cookies to enhance your experience. By using our website you consent to our use of cookies.

I Agree

Why do we still have a diversity problem in the Tech sector when we talk about it so damned much?

If we are serious in wanting to #PressforProgress in tech, we must have the ‘real’ conversation about what’s really holding our industry back, argues Elizabeth Vega.

 

This year’s International Women’s Day #PressforProgress campaign is firmly aligned with the growing global movement for women gaining equality, greater opportunities and dignity for their gender. From emboldened and articulate actors at the Oscars, to the great and wonderful diversity of voices willing to share their personal pain and experiences through #MeToo, media coverage about women’s battles to win equality would suggest that we’ve achieved serious advances in gender parity.

The facts, however, are less persuasive.

The latest World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report evidences that the gap between the achievements and wellbeing of men and women has actually widened in the last year. Across the globe, women have lost ground in accessing the same opportunities that are open to men, and they are far more limited in their ability to fulfil their social and economic potential.  This is especially true in the tech industry, which worryingly is also the sector that offers the largest and broadest skills and jobs opportunities for the future.

By now, most of us are familiar with the sobering statistics. Only 17 per cent of employees in the UK tech sector are women.  Over a quarter of female students say they’ve been put off by a career in tech.  The laddish culture and boorish behaviours in many overtly male dominated workplaces are unwelcoming, intimidating and can be demeaning to female colleagues.  It genuinely upsets me to say that in Manchester, our UK headquarters, over half of all businesses surveyed by the Manchester Digital annual skills audit responded that their tech teams are exclusively male.

These types of statistics are well reported, and so too are the rational arguments around why we simply must close the gender and skills gap.  It therefore seems that rational argument doesn’t gain traction.

Perhaps, it’s time to explain the unpleasant consequences of complacency and empty rhetoric, however unintended or benign.

The tech sector is growing fast and creating most of the new job, business and economic growth opportunities. The tech sector is a global and highly competitive marketplace and other nations, including those previously considered third world or developing, are keen to compete for business and invest in upskilling their workforce to improve their economic prospects.  The unvarnished truth is that the UK and Australia has a critical shortage of tech, data sciences, cyber security and digital skills, amongst others.  Our ability to maintain the economic prosperity and quality of life, that we are accustomed to having in Australia and the UK, relies upon us developing the full breadth of our workforce and ensuring that it is appropriately skilled.

Unless parents and leaders in education, business and government are serious about overcoming diversity and culture issues, we will not have a capable workforce, our businesses and economy will not be competitive, and our young people will have far fewer and more limiting life choices.

I call it out, loud and clear, that the prejudiced attitudes and undermining behaviours evident every single day - across homes, schools, universities, workplaces, on company and institutional boards and in government - disincentivise and discriminate against women in tech and in leadership careers. Our national and regional economies, businesses and children will pay a heavy price, within just a handful of years.

 

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind: “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome”.

Rather like global climate change, it may be more convenient and expedient to ‘market a good message’ and gloss over the real challenges of addressing workforce diversity and the skills shortfall. However, not developing the full potential of a nation’s workforce will have grave social and economic consequences, within just a few years and certainly within the window of the current generation.

A UK parliamentary committee warned that the current failure to equip the workforce with the digital skills that employers need is already costing the British economy £63bn a year in lost GDP.

So, we need to have ‘real’ conversations.

Innovation is at the heart of opportunity in the new economy and there have been many studies showing that women help make a group more effective at solving problems.  Unless women are actively engaged in shaping the future of technology then our industry doesn’t have the means to contribute to society as it needs to.

For example, early speech recognition technology was created by all-male teams and proved to be useless in a workplace of primarily female administrative and secretarial staff. Similarly, air bags in vehicles, initially produced by an all-male team resulted in the deaths of women and children when deployed, because they had been designed and only tested against the height and weight standards for men.

Disturbingly, consider a study by computer scientists from California Polytechnic State University and North Carolina State University. It found that female participants in an open source programming event had their code rated more harshly than their male counterparts.

When the gender of the coder was hidden in the study, ‘gender blind’ assessments found that female developers were rated as having consistently better code. The study concluded that women were very clearly disadvantaged by overt gender bias, despite in fact being better contributors.

What this study, and virtually every other gender gap study shows, is that engrained prejudice is underlying the lack of progress in closing the gap of workplace diversity and women in tech and leadership roles.

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind: “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome”.

So, we need more than rousing campaigns, inspirational hashtags and rational argument to close the gender diversity gap in tech.

We need committed leaders that lead by example and personally oversee a workplace culture that enshrines equality, respect and inclusiveness across the organisation. We need more credible female and male role models that authentically champion these values.  And we need more early interventions to make sure girls’ career choices aren’t restricted, even before they realise they have options.

Both men and women need to call out and challenge prejudice when it’s clear that women are being held back by outdated views and discriminatory behaviours. There is nothing more powerful or effective than a male colleague standing by a female colleague because it’s ‘not fair or right’.  We need to make these men into our role models as well.

We also need muscular policies to address the persistent lack of progress to date, and real consequences if policies are breached. To provoke some lively debate, may I suggest a merit/demerit system for grants and taxation schemes?

More than a decade ago, I moved on from feeling any angst over ‘token gesture’ sensitivities or academic argument around ‘affirmative action’ initiatives. The statistics show we haven’t progressed and we now need to develop cut through, making workplace equality and diversity the ‘new normal’.

This will take proper, robust reporting on targets for gender ratios on STEM courses and in tech jobs. Perhaps it’s also time to start looking at the concept of an “inclusion rider”, as raised by Frances McDormand at this year’s Oscars Awards ceremony.  This is a contract clause used by an influential actor to insist that the cast and crew, recruited to work on their film, meet an agreed level of diversity.

If Hollywood is actively looking at strong, potent measures to manage equality, respect and inclusion in their industry then we in the equally powerful tech industry couldn’t and shouldn’t do any less.

 

share this page
@InformedTweet How to make policing more effective in the digital age? Fascinating insights from Managing Consultant Sebastian Uhl… https://t.co/3TmZp2WaUE
@InformedTweet Rixy rocks Donny Teen Tech event!!! Informed Solutions Technical Director Matt Rix returned to his roots in Doncast… https://t.co/24oqAT5BwM
@InformedTweet Informed Solutions Group CEO @ElizabethTVega named among most influential women in UK tech by @ComputerWeekly. Gre… https://t.co/ssH14h6JK6
@InformedTweet Pleased to be providing a legal and industry perspective on AI in healthcare alongside @DACBeachcroft at… https://t.co/WTEFTOfU8v
@InformedTweet Kicking off Manchester Connected Health Ecosystem, looking at driving digital innovation with Health Innovation Man… https://t.co/zlUD7UctrK
@InformedTweet We are excited to join @teentechevent today at @SaddleworthSch to talk about designing cities of the future #technology #teentech
@InformedTweet Informed Solutions’ CEO @SlfSeth giving keynote on Innovation and Digital Transformation in Healthcare at the AUS-B… https://t.co/jUlPtzQrst
@InformedTweet Fantastic panel discussions here at the Australian British Health Catalyst today in Cambridge. How can we make sure… https://t.co/rousQhwD3J
@InformedTweet Delighted to have been invited to participate and share our experiences from both AUS and UK perspectives - thanks… https://t.co/DLRdKbJhKp
@InformedTweet Keynote from Informed Solutions’ UK CEO @SlfSeth at the Australian British Health Catalyst 2019 tomorrow. The Care… https://t.co/45nsEtXwAe
@InformedTweet Fab Day 1 of the Australian British Health Catalyst 2019 for our Chairman @jsainformed – 1st class work by… https://t.co/oAsIzTPbj5
@InformedTweet Excellent Australian-British Financial Catalyst event by the brilliant @BritishChamber team this week, attended by… https://t.co/Eac3ViJpwy
@InformedTweet (Updated) After contract award, how is supplier performance assessed? At Informed Solutions, we conduct an Annual S… https://t.co/5URcrRUu6C
@InformedTweet Delighted to be appointed to G-Cloud 11, extending our presence on the @GOVUKdigimkt for cloud services to the publ… https://t.co/jTwZEYwZco
@InformedTweet Raising the gaze of young people when it comes to careers in IT and technology, our Technical Director Matt Rix is… https://t.co/LPcP4k5iUm
@InformedTweet How to tackle barriers to public sector data sharing? Our UK CEO, Seth Finegan, pitched an innovative solution for… https://t.co/hz088TpJGX
@InformedTweet Great insight from Seth Finegan, Informed CEO, & William Priest at the @DigiLeaders Conference. #DLWeek https://t.co/qS5nZwT5Kg
@InformedTweet Showing how geospatial can unlock benefits for sectors from health to insurance......great session. https://t.co/RHHmkO9zQZ
@InformedTweet Geospatial experts William Priest @GeospatialC & Seth Finegan @InformedTweet underlining centrality of location inf… https://t.co/XkRhzzKe09
@InformedTweet Always delighted to be taking part to foster closer links for exports across the Commonwealth at this crucial time,… https://t.co/xeSvanZO0S
@InformedTweet A pleasure to have run two of the #RegTech Salons, and participated in sessions held by the other supporters https://t.co/OrdWWm2vNB
@InformedTweet What does it take to be the digital innovation & transformation partner of choice? Our UK CEO, Seth Finegan, refle… https://t.co/2ZL2j0KHRJ
@InformedTweet Informed Solutions’ Group CEO @ElizabethTVega with @WilliamJHague and longest-serving Australian Foreign Minister A… https://t.co/PJ4sVf1iT2
@InformedTweet Great Salon on Smarter Regulation with input from CQC, HFEA,NHS D, Sellafield & more. Next meeting is in London on… https://t.co/tbdDMwmLP9
@InformedTweet Our journey from contract award to building a valued relationship: fascinating insight from the 2018/19 edition of… https://t.co/kpsg6vgrGr
@InformedTweet .@The_ONR CEO @AdrienneKelbie setting the scene for a day of discussions on innovation within the nuclear industry… https://t.co/wBMuyhkBYe
@InformedTweet Our Manchester Salon on ‘Tech for Smarter Regulation’ for @DigiLeaders Week is soon, Tuesday 11th June 4:30pm-7pm.… https://t.co/IWD8ARCVqG
@InformedTweet The rewards of being a servant-leader: one of our talented colleagues, Helen Craven, dives deep into the similariti… https://t.co/K3RiZlZ1QY
@InformedTweet Delighted @CareQualityComm is sharing views on Smarter Regulation & how technology is changing Regulators at our Sa… https://t.co/lsARyqnvg5
@InformedTweet Tech for smarter regulation? We're hosting two @DigiLeaders Salons in London (https://t.co/mBBm6ZaV3P) and Manchest… https://t.co/bb8bvKVwuq
@InformedTweet Sharing skills with the next generation and helping #graduates to thrive in the competitive world of #tech: all fro… https://t.co/m5x8AZa5M6
@InformedTweet A great day @ Manchester Uni meeting students & future colleagues from the ITMB course- we're RECRUITING talented g… https://t.co/5jgtuklxEa
@InformedTweet A pleasure raising money for this fantastic charity! #Bakeoff #Charity https://t.co/dVcA3uYE8N
@InformedTweet We're once again eating cake for a good cause! We are raising money for the Sale-based charity @EveryoneCanUK, wh… https://t.co/9yVe32L8Di
@InformedTweet And a big shout out to @openstreetmap from our Chairman @jsainformed who was thrilled and impressed with colleagues… https://t.co/DPJSAvYZlA
@InformedTweet Maps are so often taken for granted. Until an area is hit by a crisis. Find out how our staff helped Médecins sans… https://t.co/m5B6h2r1hS
@InformedTweet Informed Solutions’ Group CEO, @ElizabethTVega, addresses Digital Leaders as finalists for this year’s Digital 100… https://t.co/iQP2RDveaK
@InformedTweet Mapathon complete! 15 people, 2 hours, 1558 buildings across 62 squares. Well done everyone! pic.twitter.com/ntKI12GObZ
@InformedTweet Starting of the #mapathon with @richpphillips giving an overview of the area we will be digitising for @MSF_uk and… https://t.co/OVzEPiOEVS
@InformedTweet Social Value: SMEs make your voice heard! Join our Group CEO @ElizabethTVega and other SME leaders in responding to… https://t.co/zgjDc0agJb
@InformedTweet Professional problem solvers: great example of how we help government digital services to transform at… https://t.co/XqIpCF7AFL
@InformedTweet Huge congratulations & respect to @AdrienneKelbie on winning Award for Transformational Leadership at the… https://t.co/ugOjH0GkmX
@InformedTweet Congratulations to @AdrienneKelbie transformational leader #NPWAwards, proud to be working with you #WeCanhttps://t.co/Tf9vrF6zXx

Join the Conversation

Share the thoughts about what matters to you