Kicking off our Digital Diversity blog series, Aileen O’Hagan, Industry Recruitment Coordinator at Equate Scotland, discusses how the technology industry has been talking for a long time about becoming more ‘diverse’. But what does this mean, and how can we achieve it?
Currently, it’s estimated that only 23% of the tech sector are women, which means 77% of tech roles in Scotland are taken up by men. While there isn’t any data pointing to the racial diversity of Scotland’s tech industry, in 2018 only 15% of the UK tech sector was made up of people from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic) backgrounds. However, how this statistic correlates in relation to Scotland’s tech workforce is unclear.
For a long time improving the diversity of a workforce has been taken to mean ‘hire more women’. But when we talk about improving diversity, what we should mean is ensuring there is a representation of many types of people in the workplace. This does mean someone’s gender but it also means their race, background, the way they look, or the way they see, feel and experience the world. Employers can take steps to review their recruitment practices, update their flexible working and work from home policies (easier now than ever due to COVID 19) and set targets for their workforce to reflect the diversity of the communities that they live in.
Looking at the statistics, Scotland’s workforce is not particularly diverse when it comes to gender, and judging from the UK wide data, it’s most likely not particularly diverse when it comes to race and ethnicity either.
It’s clear that the technology industry has a long way to go, but diversity is only half the story.
Inclusion in the workforce is arguably more important. Inclusion is embracing and utilising the diversity that exists in your team and recognising the strengths that different perspectives and life experiences offer. Inclusion overcomes the idea of tokenism in the workplace, whereby someone feels they are hired because of a characteristic that they have rather than their skills or experience. Verna Meyers famously said ‘Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance’.
But why is it important?
If we don’t have both diversity and inclusion, we get things wrong. In 2014 Apple launched the all-encompassing health tracking app. It measured everything from calorie intake to alcohol consumption, heart rate and sodium intake, but it managed to miss out one vital aspect of female health. Menstrual cycles. While it was quickly resolved, the initial omission shined a light on the lack of diversity round the table when the app was developed.
Shortly after, in 2015 Google’s tagging algorithm for its ‘Google Photos’ app mis-labeled photos of black people as gorillas, while Microsoft’s facial recognition software was reported to fail to recognise people with darker skin.
More recently the UK and Scottish Governments produced an algorithm to work out the results of exams that had been scrapped due to COVID 19. In Scotland, 125,000 exam results were lowered from the predicted results, disproportionately effecting people from low-income areas. While this decision was then reversed after public outcry at the impact all of these examples could have been avoided if the development teams were diverse and inclusive. They demonstrate that if we don’t have diversity in technology we can unintentionally fail large groups of people, and not only do we risk cementing inequalities into our society but for companies, they risk damaging their reputation.
How do we change?
If diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance, then make sure you ask everyone to dance.
Don’t just think about how your employees are contributing to the organisation, but also how the organisation is contributing to its employees.
I often get asked ‘How do we become more diverse?’ Obviously, there is no single answer to this question – there are a number of steps and a range of activities employers can undertake to attract a more diverse talent pool (check out our best practice guide for the tech sector!). But it’s not just about recruitment. Employers have to think about the part that comes next. What needs to change so you can accommodate people who are different, to make sure they can bring their whole, authentic selves to work; how do you make sure everyone feels valued and that they can fulfil their potential in your company? This is inclusion – if you don’t get that inclusion right, any gains made through better recruitment practice, flexible working policies or any other steps taken will be lost, as people won’t stay long in a company they don’t feel genuinely part of.
And at the end of the day, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. While we go through a period of monumental change why not consider how you or your company can also change.
About Equate Scotland
Established in 2006, Equate Scotland is the national expert in gender equality throughout the STEM sectors. They make a tangible and sustainable change, enabling women studying and working in these keys sectors to develop, by supporting their recruitment, retention and progression. Their vision is of a progressive STEM labour market where women can contribute equally to advancements in science, engineering and technology and have fair access to the jobs of the future.
Aileen works to support STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) employers improve the recruitment, retention and progression of women in STEM by improving their recruitment practices.
Get in touch with Aileen on [email protected]