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Tech firms not “walking the walk” when it comes to diversity

Despite high-tech firms claiming to have a good track record in diversity, most do not consider it when making business decisions

High-tech firms can “talk the talk” but are not “walking the walk” when it comes to implementing diversity in their business, according to Donal Daly, executive chairman of sales firm Altify.

This discovery came as part of the company’s second annual business performance benchmark study, which aims to inform organisations about the impact of factors such as diversity on business success.  

Altify surveyed 422 employees – 43% of which were businesses executives, 40% management and 17% individual contributors – across various sectors about strategic plans, customer relationships and trends.

Over 65% of respondents from firms centred around computer hardware and software claimed to have good or great diversity initiatives, but only 26% of these companies factored in the diversity of a supplier’s employees when buying a product from them.

Daly said high-tech companies “talk the talk” by having diversity polices in place, but do not “walk the walk” because they do not consider diversity in their business decisions.

Though these businesses claim to have good diversity practices, Daly claimed this was marketing talk rather than a diverse mentality built into their DNA.

He added this approach could result in high-tech teams inadvertently implementing bias into technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) because of a lack of influence by diverse staff.

“The data says diversity is good for business. If people have a good track record in diversity, they tend to have better financial results”
Donal Daly, Altify

“The reason it concerns me is that’s where the majority of the AI innovation is coming from. As a consequence, if I’m writing an algorithm to predict some outcome, I will consciously or subconsciously inherently take my bias,” he said.

“If you look at the top five tech companies – you know who they are – and profile them, you’ll find the high proportion in high tech is male, they’re white and they’re straight from a sexual preference point of view. As a consequence, you probably have unconscious bias.”

During the Everywoman Forum in January, Yen-Sze Soon, managing director of consultancy Accenture, said women need to be “front and centre of tomorrow’s world” and diversity could stop the current stereotypes in the IT sector becoming ingrained in AI. Daly said it was the responsibility of the developers to check and amend these issues.

Of the IT sector respondents in Altify’s survey, 55% claim to have good diversity polices, but only 9% thought diversity had a major impact on business performance. Altify measures company performance by level of customer retention and its sales cycles – the time it takes to get revenue from new customers.

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According to the British Computing Society (BCS), only 17% of IT specialists in the UK are female, compared with the national working average of 51%. Furthermore, just 21% of IT personnel are over 50 and 8% are disabled, compared with 45% and 23% respectively.

While the IT contingent employed more people from minority backgrounds, at 17% compared to the average 12%, BCS found these jobs were more likely to be temporary.

Although the majority of the high-tech companies Altify surveyed claimed to be diverse, it was unclear whether these “diverse” roles were evenly spread across IT roles or in other parts of the organisation.

The survey also found that over half of the financial services respondents (54%) said diversity had a major impact on business performance. This sector ranked the highest for diversity impact, ahead of telecoms and media, where 40% of the respondents saw a major impact.  

Some 71% of all respondents thought diversity had “some” or “a major” influence on business success, a slight increase on last year’s 69%.

Companies that have implemented diversity for the correct reasons are more likely to be successful, according to wider research. Some reports say diverse firms have a 45% better chance of improving market share and get over 50% better returns on equities.

“The data says diversity is good for business,” says Daly. “If people have a good track record in diversity, they tend to have better financial results.”

Companies need to not only consider hiring, but also retaining these employees. Culture plays a vital role in ensuring everyone is comfortable and wants to stay, something firms are less likely to have if they are hiring for the label of diversity without understanding the impact and business benefits.

Read more on Diversity in IT

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