Tech for D&Iversity22: Seven D&I fails tech firms are making (and how they can improve)
London may be one of the most desirable places in the world to grow and scale a tech business, but the results of this year’s Tech London Advocates Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) survey made for sober reading.
Swap out the number of women who work in tech with the figure from over twenty years ago and you will arrive at the same figure: 19%.
And this percentage hasn’t altered in the intervening years – or even in the last ten since more firms began investing serious money into D&I initiatives and policies and with organisations like TLA emerging.
The survey also confirms that, of the minority of women who do work in tech, few are represented at senior leadership level.
Of the 180 London tech leaders who were surveyed by TLA, nearly two thirds of respondents indicated that women in senior leadership teams remained in a minority, while only 7% of London’s tech companies were able to claim an all-female senior leadership team.
Going it alone appears no easier – with data showing that only 1% of venture capital (VC) funds are going towards female-founded businesses.
Representation at senior level among Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) doesn’t fare any better among London’s tech firms: three quarters of respondents said that their companies had almost no BIPOC representation on their senior leadership teams.
It’s easy to blame Brexit or the pandemic (which half of respondents did) for taking the focus away from improving diversity and inclusion. But the fact is that D&I continues to be a challenge for the tech industry in the UK.
What’s notable each year when these surveys are published is the ever-widening gap between how firms think they are doing, compared to how they are performing.
Almost 60% of respondents believe the industry has become more inclusive in the past five years, and 42% are confident London will establish truly diverse tech companies within the next ten years. And yet TLA’s data suggests otherwise.
Russ Shaw, entrepreneur and founder of TLA and Global Tech Advocates (GTA), warns that if the trend continues it will adversely affect the city – unless senior tech execs start to more consistently “walk the talk.”
Last week the TLA and GLA convened at the Here East innovation campus in East London for this year’s TechforD&Iversity conference to try and dissect where mistakes were being made and what they can collectively do to tackle the perennial problem of the lack of diversity in tech.
Below are seven issues that came out of the conference that we felt nailed where firms are failing in their D&I.
#1 Firms keep forgetting about the ‘I’ in D&I
Most leaders at the conference agreed that inclusion wasn’t just a ‘nice to have’ but was something that led to fair and equitable outcomes. So why do they so often fail to retain diverse talent or nurture progress?
As Flavilla Fongang, founder of award-winning branding agency 3 Colours Rule and head of TLA’s Black Women in Tech working group pointed out: “Half the challenge is getting diverse workers in the room, but the other half is how you treat them.
“What programmes do you have in place? Are you focussing on soft skills? What support do you have inside the business for diverse employees at different stages in their career?
Educational tech evangelist and London teacher Mark Martin – also co-founder of UK Black Tech was concerned that many diverse tech workers were still perceived as token hires: “How are they really being viewed? As leaders and innovators or as the D&I rep?” he asked.
Mark Ellis, global head of group operations on the Change and Technology division at Credit Suisse added that offering support networks for diverse workers at all levels – and regularly listening to their views and asking for feedback – was critical for tech firm bosses: “Otherwise you completely lose the value that you’re generating in the organisation.”
Debbie Forster, CEO of the Tech Talent Charter, a collective that aims to deliver greater inclusion and diversity in the UK tech workforce, suggested that all tech firms study the data on the top ten firms that are getting it right in terms of gender and ethnicity diversity.
“You’ll find that these companies are using real, data-driven targets and they are not just focused on diversity but also on inclusion. We need to build companies that bring different cultures. Ones that don’t just bring people in but giving them a voice in that room and remove barriers to get them into leadership. It’s about growth, retention and promotion,” she says.
#2 C-Suites execs’ consensus-based decision making is killing inclusion
Founder of the London School of Economics’ Inclusion initiative Grace Lordan stated during the conference what most people in the room have perhaps long suspected: the reason most tech firms don’t enable diverse talent is because “most leaders don’t see diversity as an asset – they see it as a ‘nice to have’ to put in their mission statements.”
“Most leaders don’t see diversity as an asset – they see it as a ‘nice to have’ to put in their mission statements.”
The annual spend on D&I initiatives by Fortune 100 companies amounts to about £1.5million. So where is this money going and why aren’t they being effective? According to Lordan one of the main reasons is the conformity-based decision making that happens among C-Suite executives which, she argues, “discourages outlier ideas and decisions”
The economist and computer scientist put the case forward for more inclusive leadership, where all voices are heard in equal measure and all team members are encouraged to listen to each other. Any voices missing are recruited and retained successfully.
She says un-diverse teams can be happy (“what’s not to like about groupthink when everybody in the room agrees with each other?”) but she argues a team can also be happy when they embrace and discuss new ideas, knowing that there is a diversity mindset.
“A team led by an inclusive leader is like a family who argue with one another safe in the knowledge that every person wants the same outcome with disagreements only serving to express everyone’s point of view,” she said.
She added that between 30% to 50% of leaders need to adopt an inclusive management style for this to trickle down through an organisation.
#3 There are zero consequences for missing D&I targets and quotas
According to Lordan unconscious bias training doesn’t work. “Your unconscious bias is based on your background and how you were brought up – so the idea that someone can come into a company and change all that in two hours doesn’t work – you need to put mechanisms and methods in place to make sure everyone is compliant with change.”
She suggests that team leaders audit opportunities across their teams; they can audit pay gaps; and they can even audit how much descent/ different opinions are valued within an organisation.
“You need to bring the unconscious into the conscious. I’d love to see incentives – what’s the diversity come payday and where are the pay gaps? Let’s tie the bonus to that because the one thing we know that works is intrinsic incentives, not education.”
It turns out however that this might be challenging for many firms to action because the data is not being measured sufficiently – a fact which some might find surprising, given that so many technology business models rely on measurements and KPIs.
Lordan says: “Companies aren’t collecting the data to find out whether their strategies are working or not. If you have a capital spend you check this. Why not do it for the people spend?”
John McCalla-Leacy, a partner at KPMG UK, and its head of ESG, adds that currently there’s no structural coherence to the way that D&I goals are currently measured. “We have long term and short-term goals – but what we fail to measure is the coherent story between the two.
“A firm may have a three-year goal to increase diversity at a senior level but the individuals who are driving this are measured year on year.”
McCalla-Leacy adds that missing targets needs to result in consequences too.
“We need to see the data, to see how we’re tracking it and that is going into the hands of not only senior managers but down through the organisation to middle management – and we need to be really clear in communicating the advantages [of hitting D&I targets] but also the consequences of missing them too.”
“Far too often we see a missing of targets with zero consequences. Data needs to go through the organisation, and we must ask why these targets have been missed.”
#4 Mentorships are no substitute for advocacy, sponsorship, opportunity and equal pay
Supporting underrepresented talent shouldn’t solely rely on mentoring (some candidates are ‘over mentored’ according to Lordan) what they need is opportunity, introductions and a broadening of their existing networks.
Vanessa Vallely, CEO and founder of WeAreTechWomen – a not for profit org that provides free resources and inspiration to a network of 140,000 tech professionals – believes that sponsorship – opening doors for people, introducing them, advocating for them, leads to more opportunities than mentorships do.
She defined what “good advocacy looks like” through the example of a male exec who coached a cohort of 4 female tech workers within the large organisation they worked for.
“He took them into his meetings, He opened doors for them and widened his networks, he introduced them to his contacts giving them context about their backgrounds. He also gave them examples of his work.
“He’d say ‘I’m going into a meeting to make an informed decision based on some documents – you guys’ brainstorm this and let me know how you would have approached this.’ He was putting them in his shoes. Widening opportunities so they could be known within the organisation.”
Others getting it right, according to Sarah Luxford, a partner at HR firm GatenbySanderson and founder of TLA’s Women in Tech, include the online auction giant eBay.
She says “When eBay found new positions coming up line managers were asked to approach their female colleagues and encourage them to apply which resulted in more applications by women. Within two years this led to a 35% to 40% uplift in senior positions moving forward. It’s such a simple trick.”
Tech evangelist Mark Martin adds that mentorships, Black History Month celebrations “and all that stuff” are great – but they’re no replacement for a firm’s commitment to equal pay. “The ethnicity pay gap is still an issue and being transparent around what people getting paid is still a huge issue that more tech firms would do well to address,” he says.
#5 CVs, references and interviews work against underrepresented groups
Some firms accidentally optimise to attract people who are good over a coffee – but what steps are being made to include neurodiverse candidates or people that come without connections, an old school tie or Russell Group university degree?
LSE’s Lordan favours getting rid of the formal job interview altogether and basing it on a skills-based assessment instead. “That’s the gold star,” she says. The economist adds that not making university degrees a prerequisite and allowing anyone to take those assessments is also preferable.
According to McCalla-Leacy KPMG is also moving away from formal interviews for its tech hires and is looking towards “gamification and hackathons” to recruit employees as well as scenario-based interviews.
Credit Suisse’s Mark Ellis adds that his firm has had some success in recruiting underrepresented talent via the blind CV process, which involves removing the candidate’s name and any other identifying factors from applications. It was widely agreed among tech leaders at the conference that this works well for junior and mid-level hires but not for more senior posts.
Ensuring that everybody applies to enter a firm through “the same front door” also applies to investors too, according to Sarah Turner, CEO and co-founder at Angel Academe, an angel network dedicated to investing in female founders. “We need to stop the system of warm introductions and make access at the gateway fairer,” she added.
#6 There’s very little diversity among tech funding teams
The reason only 1% of venture funds are going into female-founded businesses, according to Priya Guha, a venture partner at female-led tech firm investor Merian Ventures, is down to the lack of diversity in the teams doing the investing.
“There’s groupthink in investment and unfortunately and investment teams hire people who look like them, think like them, invest like them and hang out with similar people. Those are the things we need to change, to get different people involved in investing,” she says.
According to Victoria Ferguson, general counsel for MMC ventures, one of the UK’s leading Series A investors, the problem venture has had for a long time is that it selects from a very small pool.
“There’s lots of gatekeeping. Most VCs don’t start out in venture – they do two to three years at a management consultancy or an investment bank and then migrate into venture. So, we’re already starting with somebody else’s pool of selected candidates,” she says.
She adds that the funds which have become inclusive are the ones that have broadened the remit for their team members and what they are looking for: “Ones that don’t necessarily require a degree and are focussed on where you’d like to go now rather than where have you been before,” she noted.
#7 Going into schools and pumping up kids’ interest with a single inspirational talk is NOT the answer
According to EdTech influencer and teacher Mark Martin, tech firms looking to inspire interest in tech careers among pupils need to have ongoing relationships with schools and their wider communities
“Going into school and pumping up kids’ interest is not the answer. Companies think if they come in once every two years that does them justice – but at the end of the day, the teachers are left to pick up. Where’s the strategy to support young people all the way up through the school? Where’s the five-year plan?
“If you want to help a school you also need to help its ecosystem, its wider communities. We even reach out to faith groups. If you are a technologist, why not put yourself forward to be a governor at your local school?”
Get this right and future tech talent might just view your company as a relevant, exciting and innovative place to work –something that many tech brands strive to be – including Dell Technologies – whose regional sales director Debbie Johnson articulated a concern that was shared by many in the room.
“Dell needs to be seen as an exciting and evolutionary – but we are known for laptops. So, do young technologists think we’re the place to be? I think we’re doing a huge amount to publicise our culture – but how do we ensure that they don’t feel they can’t apply to us, that we’re not for them? How do we remove barriers and amplify our culture code and openness around diversity and get that out there?”
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