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Tech Talent Charter aims to tackle diversity outside of London

Not-for-profit organisation partners with Nominet in Oxford to make businesses aware of local initiatives and how to implement best practice

Tech Talent Charter (TTC) has begun reaching out to companies outside of London in a bid to grow the number of firms committed to driving diversity in the technology industry outside of the capital’s ecosystem.

The charter – a government-backed initiative aiming to address the tech industry’s diversity gap – partnered with Nominet in Oxford to make businesses there aware of local initiatives and how to implement best practice.

TTC CEO Debbie Forster said companies are beginning to realise why diversity is important in a business, but more collaboration is needed around efforts to increase diversity.

“Three years ago things started happening, companies started doing things and initiatives started popping up, but what we saw was the danger of overlap,” said Forster.

In the past few years, many initiatives and networks have been created to try to increase the number of women in technology and address the sector’s diversity gap.  

Forster said there has previously been a danger of “reinventing the wheel”, which is why the charter aims to share best practice across the industry and measure whether the diversity dial is shifting within the organisations that sign up.

“It’s realising that the solutions are only going to happen if we come together,” she said.

More than 200 companies have signed up to the charter, but Forster said reaching the target of 500 signatories by the end of 2018 can only happen if the movement “breaks out of the London bubble”.

Hard to attract talent

Eleanor Bradley, COO of Nominet, said that as an Oxford-based business, it can be hard to attract technology talent, and that firms have to try harder to help people understand why they would want to work for them.

She said firms must make sure they appeal to candidates by letting them know “what it is you’ve got to offer that’s different and more exciting than heading into Hoxton every day”. She added that London-based firms may find talent “more readily available”.

One of the ways Bradley suggested firms could encourage tech diversity and attract more talent is by partnering with other small businesses “not inside the London bubble” to promote science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers.

Some firms try to do this by going into schools and talking about their jobs in technology to offer children visible role models in the sector.

This can seem like a daunting task for one firm on its own, said Bradley, because it could only undertake such an activity once or twice a year.

But when partnered in a network of many small businesses, “suddenly it becomes much more meaningful and suddenly you know you’re having more of an impact”, she said.

“If you’re a medium-sized business, feeling like you’re making an impact can be quite hard, so I do think networks for SMEs are so important.”

Fishing in different pools

Some firms have said in the past that they wanted to hire more women into their technology teams, but there was too small a pool, so they never saw women apply for these jobs.

Bradley said diversity will not increase in firms unless they are “really demanding” of any recruitment consultants they use.

“You can’t just go to the same recruitment consultant you’ve always gone to – you have to find other ways to find talent,” she said.

To ensure consultants dedicate themselves more to putting diverse candidates forward for tech roles, TTC has enlisted a number of consulting firms to sign the charter.

Lexie Papaspyrou, head of academy for Sparta Global, said it can be hard to address the number of diverse candidates entering the tech talent pipeline because many different elements are involved, such as parents, teachers and society.

It can also be difficult to find diverse candidates when recruiting directly from the Stem pipeline by targeting graduates. One way that firms can address the diversity balance, said Papaspyrou, is by looking for people in the community who have not gone through a traditional route into tech but are seeking a technology role.

Inclusive culture within an organisation is just as important as hiring processes when trying to increase an organisation’s diversity, but Papaspyrou warned that there can be a misunderstanding about what inclusive culture really means.

She used the example of “free beer on Friday” and table football as cultural selling points for a lot of small organisations that can end up alienating people who do not fit into particular groups.

Jon Hull, head of resourcing delivery at Nationwide Building Society, said knowing your target audience is extremely important because many campaigns that are designed to make firms appear diverse and encourage more minority groups to apply for roles can seem patronising if handled poorly.

Read more about diversity and women in IT

  • Research by the Open University has assessed the differences between the women in IT landscape in the UK and India.
  • CEO of social enterprise Code First: Girls explains how partnerships with firms such as Trainline and Goldman Sachs are helping to reach the firm’s goal of teaching 20,000 women to code by 2020.

During her early career in technology, Lucy Rogers, founder of Guild of Makers, said opportunities to be the “poster girl” for women in technology were detrimental to her work.

“That took me away from my normal work and I got less respect from my peers and my managers because I was taken out to be the token woman,” she said.

Some firms try to make sure staff feel they can “be themselves” at work as this can promote retention and creativity in the workplace.

Rogers said she would have been more likely to stay with employers she had left if they had given her the opportunity to incorporate some of her interests outside work into her role.

At the Tech Talent Charter’s first event outside of London, a number of table discussions were organised to highlight what the firms attending were already working on to advance diversity and identify any gaps where they could do better.

These discussions had two objectives: to help improve recruitment processes and to widen the talent pipeline.

Ideas put forward included; removing written job descriptions to prevent candidates being put off by language or extensive requirements;, making sure terms such as “flexibility” involve everyone and stop being associated only with women within an organisation;, taking names or university names off CVs to prevent unconscious biases; and emphasising community engagement to draw in talent from the local area.

Read more on Diversity in IT

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