The UK's innovative and fast-growing tech sector has proved itself to be resilient to threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, yet ensuring diversity in the workforce is key to its long-term future success
With the UK tech industry now worth $1trillion (£764billion), and the fact it still managed to grow in these challenging times, you'd think that everything would be rosy, and the future bright. However, there continues to be a lack of diversity when it comes to technology roles, especially with regards to gender in leadership positions.
According to techUK, less than a tenth (8.5%) of senior leaders in UK tech are from ethnic minority groups, a sixth (16%) of IT professionals are female, and a tenth (9%) of all IT specialists have a disability.
Julia Bateson, head of degrees and apprenticeships at TechSkills, explains how digital tech is relevant to all sectors across the economy and society, from the way we work to the way we socialise and keep connected with other people.
'It's therefore crucial that the tech industry involves a diverse workforce from all walks of life that represents global tech users,' says Julia. 'This involves bringing different insights to understand an intuitive user experience, designing innovative software and systems, improving our online security, and creating outstanding products.'
She adds, 'In order to compete on a global scale, businesses in the UK need to recruit a diverse workforce to reflect gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and provide motivational opportunities to encourage social mobility.'
Why does inclusion matter from a business perspective?
In one of its featured insights, global management consultants firm McKinsey & Company explored the connection between a company's business success and its approach to diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I). They found that organisations ensuring a greater diversity in their workforce were more likely to perform better when it comes to long-term profitability.
Gemma Edgar, digital marketing manager at Diversity in Tech, agrees that having a diverse workforce drives innovation, with businesses across the world seeing financial gain as well as improved employee satisfaction and retention as a result of improving their diversity metrics.
'It's critical for companies to invest into creating robust and effective DE&I strategies to ensure that every aspect of their hiring, policies, training and culture are inclusive and supportive of every employee regardless of their age, gender, background or race,' adds Gemma.
'The tech industry has historically been dominated by men, and while the number of females entering the sector is improving, there's still so much more to be done to reach gender equity,' says Gemma.
A Tech Nation report on diversity and inclusion in UK tech companies has highlighted the current gender imbalance, revealing that only a fifth (19%) of tech workers are women - staggering when considering that half (49%) of UK workers are women.
This is compounded by the findings that less than a quarter (22%) of tech directors are women, with the proportion of female directors in the video game industry standing at less than an eighth (13%).
Despite more recent interventions aimed at shedding light on and tackling this gender gap in tech leadership roles, the proportion of men and women reaching director level since 2000 has remained almost the same.
Gemma believes that one of the most common reasons for the disparity between male and female representation in the tech industry is the lack of education in young girls around STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
'Many young girls still believe maths, science and technology are subjects for boys, and until we change these perceptions, a gender gap is still likely to be an issue,' she adds.
Read more about this specific issue on Diversity In Tech's sister site, Women In Tech.
With funding from The Government Equalities Office, the Gender & Behavioural Insights (GABI) research programme has recommended a number of evidence-based interventions that can positively affect gender equality.
- ensuring shortlists contain more than one woman
- using blind CV screening and recruitment methods
- resolving the gender pay gap
- encouraging role models
- mentoring and reverse mentoring.
A number of graduate employers have already taken action, with consultancy firm Grayce offering 100 fully-funded 'Women in Tech' scholarships for women interested in learning to code through Code Nation's 12-week Master:Coding bootcamp.
Cisco's Women Rock-IT programme provides learning opportunities for women to build their skillset through free, online, exploratory courses.
A 2018 study by The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that almost a third of young LGBTQ+ people avoided careers in STEM subjects due to fears about discrimination.
As businesses look to make their working environments places where everyone feels, comfortable, included and safe, policies should include provision for safeguarding LGBTQ+ workers.
Tech companies such as Amazon, Fujitzu, Google, Hewlett Packard (HP) and Microsoft have been praised for having diverse workforces and supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
For example, HP were the first company to start an employee resource group for LGBT+ employees, while Amazon received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, ranking it among the 'Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality'.
This included scoring measures attributed to workforce protection levels, inclusive benefits, supporting an inclusive culture and adopting corporate social responsibility measures to include people of all sexual orientation.
Read more about getting a job as an LGBTQ+ graduate.
Tech Nation's report found that people from ethnic minority groups make up a larger share of the technology workforce (15.2%) than they do across the wider UK workforce (11.8%).
Despite these findings, as mentioned previously by techUK, less than a tenth of senior tech leaders are from ethnic minority groups.
This is against the backdrop of leadership in the tech sector being highly international. Indeed, nearly a fifth (18%) of tech directors are non-British in nationality, compared to less than an eighth (13%) in other industries.
To ensure a greater degree of diversity in their workforce, tech giant Apple changed its global recruitment practices and in December 2021 reported a 74% increase in the number of workers employed from underrepresented communities in the US compared to January 2021.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT analysed social mobility in the IT sector through its Moving On Up report. The study found that the IT profession does present opportunities for social mobility.
Through the research, the organisation revealed that young people from less advantaged backgrounds would find IT career paths more accessible to them than in other long-established professions such as law and medicine.
There are more entry routes into IT and achieving the necessary qualifications and skills are far cheaper than in these other vocations.
Indeed, three-quarters (75%) of those in IT experienced upward social mobility compared to the social class of their parents, with four-fifths (80%) of IT project/programme managers experiencing a higher social mobility grading than their parents.
While a fifth (19%) of the UK working population as a whole has a disability, techUK reveals that when it comes to IT specialists with a disability, this only amounts to a tenth (9%) of workers.
Tech Nation's People and skills report 2022 shows how tech job opportunities have hit a ten-year high, with around 870,000 tech and digital jobs available between January-May 2022, yet with just 52.3% of disabled people in the UK in employment (Office for National Statistics, April 2021). It's clear that there's still a disability employment gap to fill, especially in the tech industry.
To combat this, the government has committed to increasing the number of disabled people in work to 1.2 million by 2027. Proposed measures include the redesign of current schemes such as Disability Confident and Access to Work to make them less time consuming for disabled applicants.
Other issues highlighted include ensuring recruitment processes are more accessible to disabled people and giving them the option of flexible working. It's also hoped that employers will make provision for specialist assistive technology and software that can help to create a more inclusive work environment.
Removing these barriers to employment will encourage more disabled people into tech and other sectors boasting a growing number of job vacancies.
Major companies such as Microsoft are also adopting clear disability hiring practices - for example, by running Ability Hiring events and providing interview accommodations - while the company also runs a neurodiversity programme for neurodiverse individuals.
Find out more
- Explore careers in the technology sector.
- Read more about diversity and improved opportunities.
- Discover opportunities for women in engineering.