As a young woman in the tech industry, I regularly experience first-hand the imbalance of gender within our sector. The disproportionate split in gender is well documented across technology and other scientific roles, as well as in senior roles across almost all industries. There are many people advocating and encouraging women to take up roles in technology to remedy the lack of diversity in the workplace. However, to say that diversity comes from gender alone is naïve. It is important to remember that diversity and inclusion in the workforce also means race, sexual orientation, age and even socio-economic background.
Take an advert by MullenLowe London for “Inspiring the Future”. It shows a class of primary school children being asked to draw a surgeon, a fighter pilot and a fireman. Of the 61 pictures drawn by the children in the class, all bar 5 of the images drawn were of a man. The advert serves to question why they should be men, and seeks to inspire young girls to take on these roles. There are lots of brilliant initiatives to inspire young girls and women to work with technology, and whilst we should encourage girls to do this, we shouldn’t restrict our reach when thinking about diversity as a whole. If we simply channel our efforts into the inspiring the female pupils, then we may see an increase in uptake but we are only giving ourselves the potential to change thinking of half of the class. If we want truly diverse workforces we don’t just need young girls to draw women in those roles, but for boys and girls alike to draw both men and women of varying age, spanning different ethnic origins.
We know what diversity looks like but why is diversity important? In a constantly evolving tech industry, and with the advent of digital, innovation is becoming ever more important. If every member of a team is the same – same age, same gender, with the same interest – then they are likely to think the same and generate the same ideas. The best digital teams need a blend of different skills, capabilities, experiences and approaches to create a truly innovative unit that is greater than the sum of its parts. As an industry we can, and should, be showcasing that a career in digital is far more than the ‘IT’ stereotype that is so often associated with it. Contemporary digital teams have a broad spectrum of roles encompassing user researchers, designers and SCRUM masters, to name a few. Many of these roles didn’t exist 10 years ago and new roles may exist in the future which are naturally promoting diversity in traditionally technical centric teams. Moreover, these aren’t necessarily technical roles, and you don’t need to have been coding since you were a teenager on a STEM route.
We should always be looking to the future, but these messages should not just be transmitted to school children. The digital sector is dynamic, ever growing and exciting, making it a highly attractive employer to an increasingly broad and diverse talent pool. Diversity was a key topic at a recent Digital Leaders Salon I attended, and discussions from wide ranging parts of the industry concluded that in order to recruit talented individuals from all backgrounds, we must focus on different strengths and be open to investing time and patience to upskill and re-train the right people as necessary. Through a less prescriptive approach we can open the door for those who may not have chosen IT as a career path.
To summarise, let’s diversify how we attract talent as an industry, making a commitment to equality, inclusion and valuing diversity. This is one stepping stone on the path to creating a more diverse digital workforce which is better equipped for the future of digital transformation.