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The IT industry needs to “redefine what it means to be in tech” to make roles appeal to a wider range of people, according to Google’s European head of diversity and inclusion, Chuck Stephens.
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Speaking at the Voice at the Table conference, which is focused around authenticity and inclusion in the workplace, Stephens said the sector needed a “different dialogue” around the roles and opportunities available in IT.
“We hear a lot about how bad it is in tech for women,” he said, but claimed the industry needed to encourage more people into tech because it was one of the few careers that would be “a safe bet” in the future.
Many believe more men need to help push the case for diversity in the technology industry because they are more likely to be in a leadership position where they have the power and influence to shift the dial.
Stephens criticised the commonly used term “white, male and stale”, as it implies white men “don’t have a contribution” to make to the tech industry’s diversity cause, despite many men making the effort to help advance diversity in the IT industry.
Promote an inclusive workplace culture
Many women and people from other minorities are still put off of jobs in tech and digital due to negative stereotyping, and horror stories are often told about how these groups are treated in the industry.
As well as thinking of ways to make tech roles seem “sexy and fun”, Stephens said more should be done to promote an inclusive culture in teams. He also emphasised the value of bringing your “whole self” to work.
When firms implement initiatives to get more women into the sector, they often find it difficult to retain them because the culture of the workplace makes the environment uncomfortable to work in, or the women feel they cannot be themselves at work.
At Google, a lot of work has been done to make people feel comfortable being themselves in the workplace. Methods include adapting interview techniques, making it clear who is responsible for career progression and aspirations, and performing regular employee opinion surveys to create actionable goals for people managers.
“When people have the ability to bring that level of detail to the office they can come up with solutions to problems that we don’t even know are there yet, and it’s that innovation that has led to our growth,” said Stephens.
He claimed team leaders and members who spend time with each other on a daily basis have the power to change that team’s culture to make it more inclusive, making people feel “safe” to be themselves at work, and therefore leading to innovation. “You control the culture in your organisation more than your CEO does,” he added.
Vanessa Lee-Poole, senior human resources (HR) lead at Accenture, agreed, claiming that if people are able to feel comfortable and use all of their personality and skills at work, it can be beneficial for a business.
Encouraging people to be themselves at work, as well as other cultural initiatives, needs to be driven not at an organisational level, but at team level, she said.
“People bring their best performance when they bring their whole selves to work,” said Lee-Poole. “People will be better guided and inspired and led by someone who knows them.”
Diversity drive needs backing from all
But others argue that step changes need to be driven from higher up in an organisation if they are to make a real difference.
“The ideal is that the two would be aligned. It’s a big task, but it is important for leadership to be aligned with the programme you’re trying to roll out. We’re still working on it, but the two need to be aligned. Get leadership on board, and then find out on the ground what’s effective to make people work together.”
If an organisation has the right leaders in place at the right time, change is more likely to scale. But it is still the case that team members are more likely to follow their team leader than someone they don’t know from higher up in the organisation.
Miriam Gonzalez, co-chair of international trade and government regulation practice at Dechert LLP, said those at the top should be aware of diversity issues, and take actions such as backing lists for promotions and pay rises and asking team leaders to “go back and look at it again” to see if more women or minority groups could be good for a role.
In the workplace, those with an awareness of unconscious bias and the need for workplace diversity should encourage others to be aware of these issues when making hiring decisions.
But some changes need to begin at home. For example, many parents are unaware of technology roles and instead encourage their children into “traditional” jobs. Also, even when women are working they still bear the brunt of the household tasks as well.
“Women are in a situation where they gained equality in the law, but then it moved to equality in the workplace,” said Gonzalez. “The bit that is missing is equality at home.”
Men and women should be aiming to gain parity both at work and at home.
As a parent herself, Gonzalez said she is not “brainwashing my boys with feminism”, but believes a mutual respect and sharing of the household workload, as well as both parents working, will set an example for the next generation.
Diversity can breed creativity and innovation
A lack of diversity and equality in teams will endanger opportunities for innovation in a world that is becoming increasingly competitive, whereas encouraging diversity in the workplace encourages the difference of thought that breeds creativity.
Rina Goldenberg Lynch, founder and CEO of Voice at the Table, claimed 66% of women hide part of themselves in the workplace and 79% of black people have admitted to covering up part of themselves at work.
But by making people feel comfortable enough to bring their “whole selves” to work, everyone can “capitalise on their whole experience”.
This is becoming especially important in the technology industry, as many firms are now claiming they need employees with both technical and soft skills to fill current roles.
Becoming a mother can actually help a woman to develop soft skills such as resilience, stamina, patience and negotiation, all of which are helpful at work, according to Emily Thorpe, founder of Happy Working Mum.
“When I first became a mum I was very much on the back foot, and I felt that was a disadvantage. Actually, being a mum has given me a skillset,” she said.
Although progress has been made in the technology industry to increase diversity, the fight for equality stretches far beyond the tech sector.
“These are just rules that have been passed down to us – we have to rewrite them for ourselves,” said Thorpe.
Read more about diversity in the technology industry