Diversity in technology has been talked about for what seem aeons now. And by that fact alone, one would be forgiven to think that things should be moving swiftly in the right direction, towards a more open, inclusive and diverse technology sector. The reality is that, despite some considerable efforts, the needle remains stubbornly hard to move.
The technology sector is still lagging the rest of the labour market, both in terms of diversity as well as the gender pay gap. As per PWC’s Women in Work index, the gender pay gap in the UK is 17%, whilst in the technology sector, the equivalent number is a whopping 25% according to Mercer.
David McCandless, a London-based information design specialist, has built an interactive online diversity visualisation tool, where you can track the progress at some of the most high profile tech firms globally. Browsing through the numbers from the last few years shows the difficulty these firms are facing trying to address the issue, and in many cases, the number of females has gone down from 2016 to 2017.
In companies like Microsoft, Nvidia and Intel, less than a third of their employees are female. The companies that are topping the list are Pandora (48%), Groupon (47%), Indiegogo (45%), Pinterest (44%) and eBay (43%), which is to their credit, but they are all comparatively small compared to Facebook (33%), Microsoft (26%), Apple (32%) and Google (30%).
Whilst that’s a rather sobering snapshot of the state of diversity in tech today, it’s important to remember that the data only gives a snapshot in time. The effects of the collective set of diversity programmes across the industry have yet to bear fruit.
So what are some of the programmes and activities that tech firms can engage in to improve diversity, inclusion, and openness? We had a look across the sector, and this is what we found to be the main areas:
Changing your hiring practices
To discriminate against people when hiring is illegal, but there are certainly discriminatory hiring practices still present in many organisations. They don’t take the form of official policy but are built on and around the informal networks, a.k.a. the old boys’ network, that makes men so much more inclined to look out for, hire or promote other men.
To change your hiring practices, a good starting point would be to focus on the following changes.
1. Make inclusion and culture part of the corporate culture. Usually, people are hired on ‘fit’, which usually means people like us. If you redefine it to mean people who expand who we are, then the team you build is much more likely to be diverse in every respect.
2. Focus on the company you want to build, rather than the two openings you need to fill. In the long-run, the people you hire to fill roles are inconsequential to the bigger picture, but if you focus on building something bigger than that, diversity needs to be part of the plan.
3. Make sure that the interviewers are as diverse as can be, to avoid the kind of biases that will lead to more of the same. For example, women are much more likely to want to join a company when they’ve interacted with other women in the hiring process. In fact, it’s widely considered to be one of the most important deciding factors on whether a woman accepts an offer or not.
There’s also a school of thought that diversity is best created from the top down. This is an approach very much embraced in Scandinavian business management and if their results are anything to go by, we should all consider it. In the last few years, there have also been specialist recruitment/search companies taking the opportunity to develop expertise in the diversity specific segment.
A common reason for lacking diversity is that the candidate pipeline just isn’t there. And yes, that can be the case if you’re hiring for specific skills and at a certain seniority level, but the issue is not only the pipeline isn’t filled but that it leaks.
It’s not difficult to see how certain structures, habits, and practices in the tech sector contribute to the pipeline issue by discouraging women to consider, entering and advancing in the field. Elizabeth Ames suggests that women leave the tech sector at twice the rate to their male colleagues, mostly due to existing biases, toxic culture, and harassment.
To offer graduate programmes specifically targeting minorities, women and LBGT will likely address some of the pipeline issues, but it’s a slow acting remedy, and one that risks being ineffectual uness culture is addressed first.
Women represent only 17% of the tech workforce in the UK and earn 75% of their male counterparts. Add to that a male orientated culture, and a tendency to disregard minorities and women in general, it’s not surprising that someone to speak up for their interests is required.
Someone who’s taken diversity advocacy to a new level is Suki Sandhu of Involve who heads up no fewer than three organisations whose mission it is to bring positive change through diversity, to the world of work. Another example is Tech London Advocates’ Women in Tech initiative, Tech UK’s Women in Tech.
Along with this type of traditional advocacy, there is also a number of conferences and events conceived specifically to promote diversity in technology. It’s our expectation that more events with a specific diversity slant will pop up in the future.
Corporate giants put their weight behind change
Despite their apparent lack of progress in their own right, some corporate behemoths have started putting their weight behind increased diversity. Dion Weisler, HP’s CEO has recently told vendors to make diversity a priority, or else lose their business with them.
Microsoft has also recently put its significant weight behind a paid parental leave policy it wants to promote. To do business with Microsoft, all suppliers must commit to providing paid parental leave.
Recently, IBM is also suing Microsoft to prevent their chief diversity officer to move across. That’s how critical the issue of diversity has become.
Ethan Austin, a director at a start-up accelerator based in L.A. has a more radical idea how to, in his own words, solve the tech industry’s diversity problem over-night. The power of the purse. The concept is age-old and has been used to great effect in many other cases, so it’s easy to see how it would seem an attractive proposition.
In his example, the manipulators of the purse strings would be a group of the most powerful VCs in Silicon Valley. If they would come together and decide to add a common diversity and inclusion clause into their term sheets, culture would shift and the gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and creed gaps would start disappearing pretty quickly.
In fact, this was trialled unilaterally in 2016 when a VC fund committed to diversity introduced a mandate that all founders taking capital from the fund had to commit to upholding four pillars around diversity and inclusion throughout their organisations.
Little happened elsewhere in the wake of this move, but recently two other top VC firms, Upfront Ventures, and Lightspeed Venture Partners, announced that as part of their terms, any portfolio company would have to adopt and adhere to a set of diversity and inclusion practices to qualify for funding.
The move is likely a smart one, and is not just about doing the right thing, but is likely to trickle through to the bottom line too. Nearly all empirical data on the subject indicates a higher financial performance in firms that are diverse, open and inclusive (McKinsey 2018 and the Peterson Institute for International Economics).
We expect that more and more organisations will get behind similar strong-arming tactics to drive the change the tech sector so needs.