There’s a diversity problem in the UK tech sector. It’s one of the biggest and fastest-growing industries yet its employees don’t reflect the makeup of the general population. According to recent statistics, Only 17% of employees are women, and only 15% are from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. So why is this the case, why is it a problem for organisations, and what can be done?
The shortage of women in tech
Only one in six students studying computer science are female and this translates into underrepresentation in the tech industry. So why aren’t there more women working in coding or programming? The problem often starts at school. There is still a perception that science, technology, and maths are ‘boys’ subjects and so girls aren’t inclined to want to study them.
Industry experts also say that women aren’t aware of the range of roles available to them in tech, such as project management and business analyst roles. It’s not all about programming and coding.
The lack of ethnic diversity in tech
People from BAME backgrounds might be hired so organisations can meet a quota, though they don’t tend to stay for very long. Stereotyping and unequal pay and opportunities are often cited as their reason for leaving the industry. People from BAME backgrounds are more likely to be in non-permanent employment, and like women, they are underrepresented in the boardroom. A survey of the 16 top tech companies in the UK found that only 4 board level positions were held by a person from a BAME background.
Why does diversity matter?
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills said that as many as 43% of science, technology, engineering and maths job vacancies are proving increasingly hard to fill because of a lack of skilled workers. This will become a huge problem for the UK economy as a whole.
But employing a diverse workforce is not just about meeting quotas, it has clear benefits for organisations. Diversity often means increased profits. According to figures from the management consultancy McKinsey, the top 25% of companies with an ethnically diverse workforce are 35% more likely to be profitable, and a gender diverse workforce brings a 15% chance of healthier profits than average.
What can be done to improve diversity in tech?
If the lack of diversity in the tech industry is really going to be addressed, changes need to be made.
Schools need to find ways to encourage more girls to take an interest in science, technology, and maths. More also needs to be done to challenge stereotypes like ‘science is for boys.’
Tech companies can offer apprenticeships where candidates learn on-the-job. This will make the industry more accessible to a more diverse range of applicants, and it will go some way to addressing the skills gap.
Organisations should consider diversity and inclusion when they are hiring new employees, and they should seek to ensure that there is no bias involved in hiring decisions, unconscious or otherwise. Setting diversity targets can help with this. For example, National Rail wants 20% of its workforce to be female by 2020, and to improve diversity for the future, it has launched a programme in conjunction with schools to encourage more girls to study science, technology, and maths.
Improving diversity in tech from the grass roots
If the UK tech industry wants to stay ahead, the diversity problem needs to be tackled from the grass roots up. Schools, organisations, and the government have to work together to bring about change, and for organisations, improving diversity is a great first step.
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