Diversity in tech isn't just a moral concern, it helps to drive forward innovation and creativity within the industry. Embracing those with different backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions helps businesses to source the talent they need to remain competitive and produce products and services that better reflect the needs of society.
However, despite the clear benefits of diversity in tech, the industry is still a long way behind where it needs to be — with only 15% of the tech workforce originating from minority ethnic backgrounds and men outnumbering women in the sector by 5:1. And while decent headway is being made, with 51% tech companies currently reporting on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), a lot of work still needs to be done to close the gap.
Looking to make your workplace more inclusive? Rest assured, there are a number of actions you can take to improve diversity within your company. Scroll down to learn more about tech's diversity struggle and to discover some best practices, or jump in by using the links on the right.
Diversity in tech refers to the representation of different backgrounds, characteristics, and perspectives within the tech industry. It's about removing preventative barriers to entry for all demographics — not just those who have historically dominated the sector — and establishing a culture where these values and habits can be reproduced.
In recent years, steps have been taken by leading tech firms to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. For instance, Deloitte has decided to hide applicant schools and colleges to limit cases of unconscious bias, and since 2014 Apple has increased the percentage of women and black employees in leadership roles by 87% and 84% respectively.
“Tech is about innovating; innovating requires creative thought – it requires making room for different kinds of thinking. The most unrealised commercial benefit of diversity is diversity of thought.” – Paul Anderson-Walsh, CEO of The Centre for Inclusive Leadership
However, with white males still making up the vast majority of the workforce, diversity in the industry is still a long way off from where it should be today. Diversity isn't just limited to race and gender, however, so to understand the term in its totality we've broken down some of its main types below.
What Types of Diversity Are There?
When we're talking about diversity in the tech industry, these are the main types that business owners should bear in mind.
- Race – Are policies in place to remove entry barriers for traditionally underrepresented ethnicities? Are company networks or groups in place, to support existing employees?
- Age – Does your workplace do what it can to support workers from all generations, from Gen Z to baby boomers?
- Gender – Are men, women, and other gender identities, hired at a comparable rate, and given equal opportunities to progress?
- Sexual orientation – Is your company a safe space for LGTBQ+ employees? And are open discussions about sexuality and allyship welcomed?
- Religion and faith – Does your company celebrate religious diversity and facilitate spaces for faith-based worship?
- Disability – Does your company offer reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled and neurodivergent applicants and employees don't stand at a disadvantage?
With many of these types of characteristics, like race, faith, and disability currently being protected by federal law, promoting inclusion in the workplace isn't just good practice, it's a legal requirement.
What Is DEI?
Diversity is a crucial first step toward meaningful change, but it only represents one piece of the puzzle. DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion — three separate but related values that help to promote fairness and a sense of belonging within the workplace.
While diversity primarily refers to the differences between us, equity focuses on the different barriers we may face when participating in certain jobs and industries, with the ultimate aim of promoting justice, fairness, and impartiality. Inclusion, on the other hand, tries to guarantee everyone has a seat at the table by making sure employees feel psychologically safe and able to make meaningful contributions at work.
As businesses across sectors become more attuned to social issues, DEI initiatives are expanding more than ever. But why are these efforts particularly important within tech, an industry where homogeneity has traditionally been the norm?
Diversity in tech creates a fairer and more equitable workforce that is more representative of the wider population. It helps the industry become more adept at responding to the needs of our society, and it also benefits business success metrics, in a number of different ways. We discuss some positive outcomes of closing the gap, below.
Research from the Boston Consulting Group found that the “level of inclusiveness” in a workplace “has a direct impact on employees’ happiness and well-being”. Protecting the mental well-being of staff should be a top priority for any business, but research from the UK-based not-for-profit BIMA revealed that 52% of tech workers deal with anxiety and depression, five times higher than the national average, making it more important than ever, in the tech industry.
BIMA's study also showed that discrimination, specifically towards neurodivergent employees and those with Afro-Caribbean and mixed heritage, was a significant driver for poor mental health, alluding to the clear correlation between poor diversity efforts and negative workplace experiences.
Beyond the moral desire for all employees to be happy and healthy, there's a cost implication, too. Employers spend an estimated $15,000 annually on each employee experiencing mental health issues, so this is a concern businesses can't afford to ignore.
Greater employee retention
Welcoming and celebrating diversity is an effective way to get staff to stick around. Research from Deloitte reveals that companies that with robust diversity and inclusion strategies consistently report higher levels of employee retention, and lower levels of turnover.
This shouldn't come as a shock. Creating a space for workers of backgrounds, genders, and abilities to thrive will have a profound impact on job satisfaction and employee engagement. And, at a time when it costs employers one and a half to two times an employee's annual salary to replace them, the importance of this factor can't be understated from a business perspective.
Improved productivity and innovation
A more diverse workforce can improve output in the tech sector too, with a report by McKisney revealing that organizations with ethnic and culturally diverse leadership are more likely to outperform their peers by 33%.
Why do higher rates of diversity correlate with increased productivity? Well, according to researchers, diversity is a “knowledge-based asset”, which results in openness to different perspectives, and the rollout of out better and more nuanced approaches. This has a knock-on effect to productivity and has also been shown to boost innovation — two factors that the tech industry hinges on.
More representative technology
Improving representation can have a tangible impact on your company's exports. This is because when teams suffer from a lack of diversity, it's much harder to create goods and services that adequately meet the needs of their consumers. And when it comes to the field of software programming, this issue is even more salient.
Due to a sore lack of representation amongst software engineers, algorithmic biases have been hardwired into a wide range of technology. For example, according to the MIT Media Lab facial recognition software has been shown to reflect racial biases, virtual assistants have been shown to produce sexist responses, and lots of the tech struggles to differentiate the gender of darker skin tones.
Gender biases have been found in algorithms developed by Google and Microsoft, too. The algorithms, which were designed to detect and block pornographic content, have been responsible for censoring countless images of females that proved to be completely innocuous.
With the reach of these technologies stretching far and wide, ethical practices — including hiring diverse talent — need to be employed before the problem gets even more out of hand, and products stop being viable.
Inclusive and sustainable diversity isn't something that can be achieved overnight. However, there are a number of strategies technology companies can take to help improve diversity more quickly. We outline some below:
Hire diverse talent
The future of your company depends on who you hire today. Therefore, if you're committed to improving diversity within your company, rolling out a diversity recruiting strategy should be your first port of call. This can be done in many ways, including by:
- reviewing your job requirements to make sure they don't narrow your pool of candidates to those whose identities match your existing employees demographics entirely
- assessing applications with as much objectivity as possible, by practicing ‘blind' interviewing and résumé reviews (where certain demographic, education and other background information is hidden so you can focus only on objective role suitability and interview answers)
- proactively varying your hiring practices and job posting sites to ensure you're reaching a wide range of audiences with potentially suitable candidates
- considering hiring more remote and flexible workers to ensure certain groups of people who could support your business aren't prevented from working with you (more on this, below)
Roll out diversity training programs
While representative hiring is important, it only represents half of the battle. To ensure your diversity attempts are inclusive, businesses should implement some form of diversity training program to make sure the values are incorporated into the company culture. To be effective, these programs should aim to increase awareness of diversity issues in the workplace, challenge unconsciously held biases, and improve communication skills among workers with different perspectives.
Measure results and review strategies
Welcoming fresh initiatives into your workplace is important, but are they actually making a difference? To make sure that your diversity efforts have a tangible impact on your working culture, business owners need to review their success regularly. Depending on your chosen metrics, this can be done in a variety of ways, including measuring the demographics of your current workforce as a whole and reviewing any potential discrepancies between senior and junior levels.
Outside of recording demographics, we also recommend issuing surveys to see how effective your inclusion efforts have been on the ground. These surveys should give employees the chance to report honestly about their experience in your company and offer up feedback too.
Upskill diverse teams
Employers should also do what they can to support the career progression of their existing workers. By upskilling diverse teams and providing employees from all backgrounds with opportunities to grow, a greater representation of workers will find themselves in more senior roles. This strategy often proves to be beneficial to businesses too by helping them address talent gaps without needing to go through costly hiring processes. Having a more diverse senior leadership, and hiring managers, will also help to attract more diverse new talent, in the future.
Implement flexible policies
Rigid workplace practices disadvantage underrepresented groups much more than their colleagues. In fact, research shows that over half of women, and 32% of ethnic minority workers have considered leaving a job due to lack of flexibility – figures that are way above the industry average. Therefore, if business leaders are serious about giving their current employees an equal footing, rolling out flexible policies, like hybrid working models, flextime, and phased retirement, is a solid place to start.
Diversity in Tech: Top 5 Takeaways
The tech industry has a lot of ground to cover before it can start considering itself diverse. However, massive leaps are being made by businesses to close this longstanding gap, and with a wealth of great DEI frameworks to choose from, it's easier than ever to take steps in the right direction.
If you're looking to improve representation within your company, here are five takeaways to bear in mind:
- Diversity comes in many forms – When approaching diversity, think holistically. Consider factors beyond the obvious, including disability, age, and sexual orientation.
- Diversity ≠ inclusion – Diversity isn't a prerequisite to inclusion. To tackle inclusion, make an effort to improve your employees' sense of belonging, their levels of trust within your company, and their meaningful integration within the workplace.
- Diversity benefits more than workers – While the well-being of your workers should be the main driver behind your DEI efforts, promoting diversity can have a favorable impact on your bottom line too, thanks to its impact on innovation, productivity, and staff retention.
- Don't just focus on diverse hiring – Representative recruiting is great, but employers shouldn't forget about the diversity of their existing workforce either.
- Review, review, review – Change is meaningless unless it drives results. To make sure your initiatives are met with success, you should review the results of your program regularly with qualitative and qualitative methods.