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More than 65% of IT business leaders say pandemic was good for D&I

The pandemic helped many organisations get on top of their diversity and inclusion initiatives, say business leaders in tech and other sectors

Increased technology adoption during the Covid-19 pandemic was good for diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, according to an Intel survey of more than 3,000 worldwide decision-makers in 17 sectors.

Looking at the technology sector specifically, Intel found that 66% of technology business leaders worldwide said the pandemic had a positive impact on D&I in their organisations as widespread use of technology to work from home gave people more flexibility, increasing inclusion for many employees.

Looking at Intel’s results across all sectors, Trish Blomfield, UK country manager at Intel, said: “So, 63% of the companies that we surveyed said Covid was positive for D&I because people can work more flexibly.

“We surveyed our employee population earlier this year, and 90% said ‘we’d rather be hybrid’. So that’s clearly working for a lot of people. There are also some groups that might even be directly benefiting [from flexible working].”

A lack of diversity in the UK’s tech sector has been a source of ongoing debate. A recent report from BCS found that women make up about 17% of IT specialists in the UK, while around 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.

In many cases, this lack of diverse talent in the tech sector is sometimes put down to a lack of inclusion in businesses – Blomfield pointed out that to ensure this new hybrid working model is inclusive, some organisations may have to revisit their diversity and inclusion practices to ensure they are fit for purpose.

“There is also a need to revisit the D&I initiatives that you have – do they need enhancing? Do they need changing?” she said.

Intel’s research found that in the technology sector, ensuring remote workers have the same access to D&I initiatives as home workers is one of the top three D&I priorities, alongside ensuring current practices are still working, and exploring the use of technology in delivering D&I initiatives.

Across all sectors, 63% of business leaders worldwide said the pandemic has had a positive impact on diversity and inclusion initiatives in their organisations.

More than 45% of the leaders who said the pandemic has led to positive D&I outcomes said remote working has made it easier to recruit talent from under-represented groups.

With the technology skills gap looming and young people on the lookout for jobs, Blomfield speculated that this could be an opportunity for the tech sector to attract and retain diverse talent into the industry.

“Intel was in this lucky position of being able to offer hybrid working with this flexibility, and data shows that is attractive to under-represented groups, to women who want the flexibility, to parents and attracting them into this industry,” she said. “Maybe it is an opportunity for us.

“That’s not going to move that needle wildly, it’s going to take time, but also I think it’s an opportunity to attract young people into science, technology, engineering and maths [STEM] as well. This is an industry that is offering a more modern, flexible, dynamic way of working and hopefully that can be part of the attraction of coming into STEM.”

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As regards areas of focus for diversity and inclusion initiatives, lack of gender and ethnicity diversity topped the charts in the survey – globally, 47% of business leaders in all sectors said they are focused on recruiting more women, and 39% are focused on addressing a lack of ethnic diversity in their organisations.

Increasing D&I for those with disability and accessibility issues was on the radar for 37% of business leaders worldwide.

But there is less of a focus on other aspects of diversity. For example, globally, a focus on sexuality is on the agenda for only 27% of business decision-makers across all verticals, although slightly higher in the UK specifically, with it being a concern for 35% of leaders.

Collaboration was mentioned as way to progress diversity and inclusion, with 37% of business leaders saying working on industry standards would help towards developing better practices.  

But positivity was not the case for all organisations, with 28% saying the pandemic had brought a negative impact on their quest for better diversity and inclusion across their businesses, in some cases because of a tail-off in investment. Many businesses cut spending when the pandemic hit as a precautionary measure to reduce any financial impact, affecting many business operations, including recruitment and IT investment.

Just under 40% of survey respondents who said there was a negative impact on D&I during the pandemic said women were the worst affected – in many cases, women have been left with the bulk of childcare responsibilities, and women are more likely to be employed in sectors disproportionately hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality.

Intel’s research found that committing to D&I in an era of hybrid working is, in some cases, more of a commitment than it otherwise would have been, with 20% of business leaders saying ensuring inclusion for both office and home workers is a priority over the next year. This includes initiatives such as ensuring equal opportunities for progression, regardless of an employee’s mode of working.

But many of those who want to achieve their set D&I goals within the next two years believe further investment will be needed for their companies to be properly prepared to deliver on these goals.

Using technology to support their push for D&I was also on the radar for 17% of business leaders, and 89% said using tech to monitor the progress of D&I initiatives will make them easier to achieve.

Blomfield explained some of the many forms this could take, including baseline technology such as ensuring home workers have access to audio-visual connectivity and the devices needed to do their jobs and connect with others within the business.

Almost 30% of businesses leaders across all sectors said companies should be taking a “digital first” approach to D&I, and 44% said more innovative uses of tech for D&I will be “critical” in helping to push D&I forward.

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