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Initiative launched to increase London tech diversity

After research from the Greater London Authority finds that young black men are most likely to be unemployed in the capital, London’s mayor launches an initiative to increase employment in the tech sector

The mayor of London has launched a programme designed to help encourage young black men into tech sector careers in the city.

The project will run as part of the Mayor’s Workforce Integration Network programme, and aims to discover the main reasons young black males do not pursue tech careers, and how this can be addressed.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said that the lack of opportunities for young black men to enter the capital’s tech scene is “not right”.

“The impact of the pandemic has reinforced why the work of the Workforce Integration Network is so important,” he added. “We have already successfully supported 20 large businesses in the construction and infrastructure sectors, representing a combined workforce of over 100,000, to remove barriers holding young black Londoners back, and I’m pleased that we are now building on this work with more action.   

“I’m determined to ensure no Londoner is left behind as we recover from the pandemic. Someone’s life chances should never be limited by their family’s background or the colour of their skin. This new initiative will give tech and digital businesses better insight into the role they can play to address inequalities, improve diversity and create industry-wide change.”

Data from the BCS in 2019 found that there were 268,000 black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) IT specialists in the UK, accounting for 18% of IT workers – a number that has increased by 2% over the past five years, from 16% in 2015.

When diving deeper into these figures, it means that around 2% of IT specialists in the UK are from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background.

Research by the Greater London Authority also found that young black men only make up 5% of London’s tech workforce, and black men between the ages of 16 and 24 are the most likely to be unemployed in the capital.

When it comes to the reason there are so few black people working in the tech sector, there are a number of potential factors, including a lack of accessible industry role models, discrimination and a shortage of skills, as well as shortcomings of employment processes such as searching for talent in a limited pool or not considering particular applicants due to their educational background.  

The Workforce Integration Network programme was launched in 2018 as part of the Mayor’s Strategy for Social Integration, and is working to increase the number of young black men working in various sectors in London through employer partnerships, improving routes into these industries for young black men, commissioning research into reasons this issue exists, and publishing best practice.

To increase the number of young black men working in technology in London, Dell Technologies, Informa Tech, Cloudreach, Ford Motor Company, Profusion, Cognizant, Panaseer, and Telent Technology Services are all taking part in the programme.

Part of the Workforce Integration Network is the Workforce Integration Network Design Lab, which aims to bring together businesses in the tech sector and use a combination of workshops, data collection, work with the Equal Group and introductions to talent suppliers to determine why there are so few young black men working in tech, and assess the success of current initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in their organisations.

Large businesses then enter a one-year programme where their recruitment processes, talent supply chains, company culture and opportunities for progression are assessed with the aim of helping the businesses develop a plan that best suits them to recruit, retain and promote more young black men within their businesses.

The Mayor’s Workforce Integration Network programme has already worked with more than 20 companies to increase the number of young black men working in construction and infrastructure in the capital, all of which are now testing some of the proposed solutions to a lack of diversity in the UK’s tech sector.

While addressing hiring issues is important, Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, pointed out that retention plans will also be needed to ensure the problem stays fixed.

“Solving tech’s D&I issue requires a two-pronged approach. First, it’s about finding the right talent and expanding the pool from which we hire and train our tech workers. There’s an abundance of opportunity in tech – with vacancies at record levels – and a key step in filling those is engaging with more diverse demographics,” he said.

“The second piece is about retention, focusing on effective strategies at a senior level which ensure that everyone feels included and comfortable, both within a company and the wider sector.”

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