The technology industry has long been criticised for its lack of diversity but, unlike many industries, its resolutely ‘white young male’ image continues to persist, even as other industries evolve and embrace greater diversity for broader competitive benefits.
So what is the problem that causes the tech industry to keep diverse talent at an arm’s length? And does the situation look set to change any time soon? We take a closer look.
The great tech drive
Lockdown has certainly taught us that we need technology more than ever. Instead of visiting the shops, we’re now ordering online. Instead of going to restaurants, we’re ordering deliveries online. GP appointments are now delivered via video and work meetings have migrated to Zoom. Retailers have built new e-commerce apps and websites, salespeople have got to grips with remote sales, pub owners have used platforms to sell drink for delivery or collection and managers have learned to use a full gamut of tools to track their teams’ performance.
It’s certainly been interesting to see how the pre-pandemic shift towards technological services has now been accelerated, and the continuing situations with local lockdowns makes it look as though digital adoption will continue to be a priority for all businesses.
With tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people now facing redundancy now that furlough has ended, people will be assessing their skillsets and asking what they should focus on next to be employable for their next job, and into the future.
Key employment areas
Certain digital skills are already hotly in-demand – machine learning, AI, digital marketing and data proficiency, for example. These specialisms are already reshaping the workplace and will only continue to do so.
The UK is already behind the digital curve, with Microsoft finding that only half of employees are currently utilising AI tools to work in a smarter, faster way, compared with nearly 70% of employees across the globe. Organisations are keen to help their workers to learn the necessary skills but there is a gap between demand and skills delivery.
For example, deep learning for complex decision-making and customer predication, and AI, is already hotly in demand, but just a third of employees feel that their employees are solidly preparing them for the skills required in the future.
Without the necessary investment, a lack of skills will certainly mean that the UK will struggle to overcome is productivity crisis, or to compete with global businesses across the world. The situation may become even more severe post-Brexit and post-lockdown, as skilled workers return home.
Looking at the diversity gap
But diversity is also a key issue. Minorities and women are significantly under-represented. In Britain’s tech centre, just 5% of senior positions are held by women and just 4% of tech workers are from BAME groups. The simple fact is that many tech sector firms aren’t prioritising diversity. Recruitment may be improving on the diversity front, but when hiring is done quickly to fill a quota little progression exists and they quickly leave.
Equally, there is a diversity gap in tech solutions themselves. We’ve all heard about health tracking kits that ignored women’s menstrual cycles or digital soap dispensers that only recognised white skin.
And yet McKinsey found that firms with a high degree of cultural and ethnic diversity enjoyed a 33% performance boost against their competitors. So, the pressure is now on for digital firms to really step up and to use the post-pandemic cultural, social and economic shift to genuinely embrace diversity. After all, they have everything to play for – both in terms of better serving customers and creating richer, more competitive and more successful businesses that can compete on a global scale.