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More than 20% of tech employees hesitant to speak about diversity

Despite a large majority of people agreeing that diversity and inclusion initiatives are important, some people are still hesitant to speak about it as a topic, according to TTC research

Almost a quarter of technology workers are cautious about raising concerns about diversity and inclusion (D&I), according to research by the Tech Talent Charter (TTC).

As part of its annual benchmarking report, TTC asked tech sector employees about their perspectives on D&I, and found although more than 80% think D&I initiatives are necessary to improving diversity and inclusion in the sector, 22% are hesitant to bring up diversity issues, which rises to 32% among ethnic minorities.

Talking about the results of the report, TTC CEO Debbie Forster said many people avoid such conversations because of a fear of saying the wrong thing, but she pointed out that “saying nothing is the wrong thing to do”, especially when it comes to ethnicity.

“We all have a role not just to be not racist, but also to be anti-racist,” said Forster.

After pledging in 2020 to move the conversation forward from a focus on gender to a wider focus on diversity and inclusion as a whole, TTC’s 2021 diversity in tech benchmarking report asked its signatories about the ethnic diversity of their organisations, and received a 45% compliance.

Almost 60% of signatories said ethnic diversity is a priority to their companies, and TTC cited a report from an all-party parliamentary group on diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) which found that ethnic minorities make up around 16% of the tech sector, more than the UK’s overall workforce, where ethnic minorities make up 12%.

Nimmi Patel, policy manager for skills, talent and diversity at TechUK, warned against blanket terms such as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) when it comes to talking about ethnicity in the tech sector. She highlighted several reasons for this, including the fact that referring to all ethnic minorities as a whole leaves out the nuance of the situation for people with different ethnic backgrounds.

For example, according to BCS data, while ethnic minorities make up about 18% of the tech workforce as a whole, when broken down, the figures show that 8% of IT specialists are of Indian ethnicity, 2% from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background, and 2% from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background.

Similarly, within TTC signatory companies, people who are black, Asian or of mixed/multi-ethnic backgrounds or other ethnic minorities made up a quarter of people in tech roles – but when looked at more closely, 15% of people in tech roles were Asian and 6% were black.

Looking at industry-specific figures, black tech workers were in their highest numbers in the personal training and coaching industry, whereas the education management sector saw the largest mean number of tech workers who are Asian.

Retail and health were the two worst sectors for ethnic diversity, with very little representation of ethnic minorities.

The report also found that among its 400-plus signatory companies, women make up a quarter of technical roles, a 1% increase from last year, with 82% saying gender is one of their top diversity priorities.

Among TTC’s signatories, the progress for diversity in tech is slightly ahead of the UK tech sector as a whole, where women make up 17-19% of tech roles.

Women in tech

A lack of women in technology-based roles has been a topic of conversation in the tech sector for many years, with the number of women in tech roles barely shifting in the last decade.

Talking about the 1% year-on-year increase in the number of women in tech roles among TTC signatories in 2020, Lexie Papaspyrou, project manager, data report, diversity and inclusion at the Tech Talent Charter, said: “While that might seem like a small increase, looking at the context in which it has happened, that is actually quite a pleasing thing to see.”

The percentage of women in tech roles fluctuates depending on specific role, industry, region and organisation size.

Some roles, such as engineering and IT operations, still had less gender representation compared with roles such as data or user experience and product. In 2020, women made up 20% of IT ops roles, 22% of engineering roles, 36% of data roles and 37% of UX and product roles among TTC signatories.

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But engineering still saw a year-on-year increase in the number of women in these roles in TTC signatories, up 5% from 2019.

When it comes to company size, micro and small companies did quite well in gender diversity, as did larger companies, where a quarter of tech roles were held by woman. But in medium-sized companies, women made up only 23% of tech roles – no change from the previous year.

The not-for-profit sector saw the best gender diversity in tech roles, with women accounting for 41% of tech workers, with consulting, events services, human resources and recruitment also having strong female representation in tech roles.

Internet services, media, information technology services and security were among the sectors with the lowest gender representation in tech roles, with women accounting for only 11% tech workers in the internet services sector, and 19% in the others.

Diana Akanho, senior insight manager for TechNation, suggested that shining a light on the altruism of a role or company could help to increase diverse candidates, especially because many young people say they want to be in roles such as doctors because they want to help people.

“They don’t realise you can also help people through particular STEM subjects,” she said.

Pandemic shifts

Research from outside of the TTC found that women in many cases were hard hit by the pandemic, with the Fawcett Society finding that one in three working mothers lost work because of childcare issues, and that women were more likely to have to provide childcare during the pandemic.

It also found that women from ethnic minorities were the most likely to be concerned about losing their jobs because of Covid-19.

Timewise, research found that 90% of people now want to work flexibly, but only 20% of jobs advertise the ability to work flexibly. It also found flexible working to be more popular among women and people with disabilities.

Pointing out that the pandemic has led to many businesses adopting flexible working, which often has a positive effect on the number of women who apply for roles, as well as benefiting everyone in the workplace, TTC’s Papaspyrou said: “When you showcase your flexible working options [in job descriptions], the percentage of women who apply for a role increases by 16%.”

TTC data showed that 6% of its signatories offered additional childcare support during the pandemic, 18% provided mental health and wellbeing support for staff, and almost 25% increased access to flexible and remote learning.

Almost a quarter of firms increased flexible working, 2% began conducting remote interviews and 4% introduced fun activities to the working day.

But TTC’s Forster said the term “back to” in reference to returning to “normal” once the pandemic subsides is a “dangerous way of thinking” because many people either don’t want to return to the office, or don’t want to work in the same way as before.

There have been concerns throughout the pandemic that D&I initiatives would fall by the wayside as businesses tackle uncertainty in order to survive.

While 14% of business leaders said other priorities had overtaken diversity issues in the past year, a quarter of business said they planned to put diversity and inclusion at the forefront in the hope that it would help deal with the pandemic.

One in five of TTC’s signatories said their current D&I policies were performing well and no changed was needed.

Forster added: “It is not enough to think about diversity, not enough to think about inclusion. We’ve really got to start thinking about how we create systems for equity, how we create belonging for everyone we are bringing into the room.”

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