The sky is the limit for UK tech – as long as we embrace diversity

In this contributed blog post, Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates explains that the UK’s tech ecosystem has the potential to be the best in the world, as long as diversity is part of the picture. 

Over the past five years, the UK tech sector has reached unprecedented heights and has successfully joined the ranks of the leading global technology hubs, edging ever closer to the likes of Silicon Valley and China. Investment is flowing in, unicorns are emerging frequently, and ground-breaking innovation is no longer the exception, but very much the rule.

As we cast our eye over the country’s tech scene, the triumphs are in abundance and evident to all. Yet, we must also be the first to recognise that the industry still faces many shortcomings, with diversity coming top of the agenda.

For a city like London, renowned worldwide for its inclusivity and cosmopolitan culture, the lack of diversity faced by the technology industry is unacceptable. It remains an unfortunate truth that a great proportion of the UK population is being greatly underrepresented, and there is an urgent need for the tech industry to work across all levels to realise the social and economic benefits of a fully inclusive workforce.

Diversity as a key objective of the industry was also highlighted in the latest report from Tech London Advocates, which mapped out the next five years of London tech and set the goal of achieving a 33% gender diversity balance in the sector’s workforce. It will be through collaboration and the galvanising of the community that the objective can be reached, and looking at the progress of past five years, there’s no reason why the target cannot be achieved.

As we look forward, the industry must ensure that it is spearheading the gender gap agenda – technology is today’s leading agent of change, and the industry as a whole must embrace that role on all fronts.

Diversity in tech, and in fact across all industries, is a subject very close to my heart, and while we have certainly seen progress on that front, we are nowhere near the finish line. There are great amounts of research already available which demonstrates that increasing diversity in the workplace benefits a company’s growth, both culturally and economically.

Developments like gender pay gap reporting have helped to move the needle, but we must ensure that the conversation does not stop and further measures are taken to make equality and inclusivity a core component of every business. The TLA Women in Tech Group led by Sarah Luxford has made significant strides in this department, hosting regular workshops that help businesses of all sizes understand the scope of the problem, and what action can be taken to address it.

When looking to set a new agenda for the next phase of the industry’s growth, the first step should be to change the practices in the hiring process. Companies must look beyond their immediate network to source fitting candidates, while also considering blind hiring – to make sure that education and names are omitted from candidates’ CVs to remove unconscious bias.

Organisations like ‘STEMettes’ and ‘Code First: Girls’ have made great contributions in this field, and companies should look their way to find new sources of talent and recruitment practices that foster diversity. Founders and CEOs need to lead by example and embrace diversity at the top level, in order for it to filter down and subsequently ensure inclusion across the business.

Although the focus is often on large companies and cultural changes in their systems, we must ensure that smaller businesses are also part of the conversation. Company culture develops early on, and the sooner that diversity becomes a company value, the easier it is for a startup to benefit from it. The startups and scaleups emerging in London today are the corporations of tomorrow, and there is no excuse for them not to embrace the diversity agenda.

Many companies have already shown the initiative by signing on to the Tech Talent Charter, which has proven hugely beneficial to the industry, setting the common guidelines for diverse hiring. In order for the sector to continue its current growth trajectory, this trend must not only continue, but escalate to greater levels of inclusion and participation.

The technology sector has consistently aimed to shape the future of our society for the better. In order for us to achieve that, we need to do better in attracting people from all backgrounds and have zero tolerance to anything that sets that back.

Tech companies are synonymous with innovation and disruption, and there is no place for a backwards approach to shaping the businesses of tomorrow. By bringing greater inclusion into the tech sector, we will unlock the full potential of London’s fastest growing industry – and after that, the sky is the limit.

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