How the tech industry can catch up on diversity

diversity age gender ethnicity
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Does the tech industry have a diversity problem? Does the mix of gender, ethnicity, age and skill-level reflect society? As much as we’d like to say yes, the numbers paint a different picture. Almost two-thirds of boards in Britain’s tech sector have no female representation at all, a meagre 8.5 percent of senior tech leaders are from minority backgrounds, the average age is 38 in comparison to 43 for non-tech employees, and last but not least, there are 17 percent more job openings than  available workers. Doesn’t the last stat sound ironic?

It is time for the tech industry to change the status quo and for those at the helm to open their doors to a wider group of people. There are several initiatives tech companies can consider in order to attract more diverse talent to their companies. Recruiting people from all ages, backgrounds and genders could be the fundamental answer to filling the skills gap, which costs the economy an estimated £63bn a year in lost GDP.

Not just for the ‘nerds’

A far cry from the IT Crowd days, tech is no longer stereotyped as a career traditionally taken on by the boy with the nerdy glasses and no friends, yet it still has not reached equilibrium with today’s diverse society. For example, female students are still more drawn towards the medical side of science, while computer science ranks in the five least popular undergraduate degrees for women. In comparison, their male counterparts are keen on engineering and technology, only topped by business and administrative studies. With gender imbalance being just one example of the lack of diversity, what can tech companies do to attract a broader spectrum of people? Two words: protean workplace.

First coined in 1976 by Douglas Tim Hall in his book Careers in Organizations, a protean workplace is defined as one where someone’s career path is driven by themselves rather than by an organization.

Just like the Mystical Greek sea god Proteus who was best known for predicting the future and being hugely adaptable and versatile (he could change his shape at will), a protean career requires a person to notice industry trends and shifts, as well as to be able to meet the demands of an ever-changing work environment. This can be with continued education, a network of meaningful relationships, or assets to adapt.

Thanks to globalization and technology, protean careers have long been popular in media-orientated careers, where journalists, PRs and marketers often work on a freelance basis. But we are not yet seeing this approach to working in the tech sector. IT companies would benefit from offering this type of flexible work environment to enable employees to thrive, regardless of their background, gender or age, as it is the entrepreneurial spirit that really counts.

Age is but a number

There has been a big push in recent years to close the graduate skills gap. Indeed, it has become a necessity as industry experts revealed at a Tech Inclusion event that many university students face unemployment due to them not possessing the right skills required by major tech employees. However, addressing the burgeoning tech skills gap amongst students is just the first step. Phase two is to ensure all workers are tech-savvy.

A recent ONS survey found that middle-aged employees no longer view career changes as negative, but rather, a challenge. In fact, many professionals are looking to “future-proof” their careers by upskilling or taking a side-step into a new field or industry, and many employers value the fresh perspective and skill set this can offer.

Taking inspiration from Tech UK’s Your journey into tech, and Year Up, an initiative from the U.S., it is also evident that helping people into the tech industry via non-traditional routes can be done successfully. Your Journey into tech provides grants and training for people of any age or with any range of prior experience to start a career in technology. From school children to English Literature graduates, this tool can help individuals to better understand their career options in the tech industry.

Not-for-profit, Year up creates opportunities for non-college graduates or those from disadvantaged backgrounds to start a career in tech by offering training, mentoring and counseling. In the U.S., tech is seen as a gateway to the middle class and learning to code is the career advice mantra. However, the education system is not systematically set up to be a stepping stone for all pupils to move into the tech industry. Instead, steps need to be taken to offer older people the opportunity to “code” and succeed.

What both initiatives offer is a chance for all ages and genders to enter tech and help to build a sustainable workforce.

Everyone’s invited – just bring yourself

Building a workforce that reflects society at large is imperative for the longevity and wellbeing of your employees and your company. By encouraging more diverse applicants to enter the tech industry businesses can create an open, varied environment where people of any nationality, age and gender can thrive. Apprenticeships and scholarships are a great way of opening up the playing field at graduate level, but more can be done to ensure “entry-level” jobs are open to all. Tech companies can take steps to be less reactive, i.e. simply waiting for people to come to them for jobs. Instead, they can seek out a more diverse group of people by looking into some of the initiatives highlighted above. Let’s face it, if the tech sector is going to prosper and create people-first innovations, it needs to reflect the society it serves.

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