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2019 - the Madeline version

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett December 27, 2019
There was much to praise around diversity in tech during 2019, but the march for equality continues.


I’ve been fortunate to cover diversity, inclusion and equality in all its forms over the past year. There are certainly some positive actions from the technology sector to report – but there’s still a lot of work to be done, as the statistics reveal. Here are my top 10 takeaways from a year in equality.

Equality is hard work

I have really gotten to the conclusion that middle management is where diversity goes to die.

Why? Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce bash is always a winner when it comes to the equality mission, and this year’s event proved no different. One of the sessions brought together four female tech CEOs, who pulled no punches when it came to sharing their views on what is wrong with the current makeup of the IT workforce – and how we start to put that right.

The above quote was from Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-founder at Ellevest, a digital-first investing platform for women. Krawcheck quipped to the audience as she might during a late-night talk show (“I love men. I've been married to a couple of them”), expressing her frustrations over the predominance of men of a certain mould. But while she acknowledged the hiring process is much harder when you’re basing it on filling certain gaps – whether that’s gender, ethnicity, age and so on - rather than just the ‘best person’, it’s vital for building a diverse team that actually reflects society, and hence offers a better product.

A framework to put D&I into action

For us as a company, we don't invest in companies that do not have gender diversity in the leadership team. 

Why? Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) started its D&I journey several years ago, and has set itself some aggressive benchmarks. 

At this year’s Women of Silicon Roundabout event in London, the firm outlined the different elements it’s focusing on, what has worked well and the potential pitfalls to avoid. These include ensuring that the person championing D&I is senior enough to have their voice heard throughout the organization, and having the tone set by the leadership team.

 Diversity of thought 

I like to have a different mix that people approach a problem from different directions and you can get much more solid solutions than if everybody is exactly like you and would come at a problem exactly the same way.

Why? Australian developer tools vendor Atlassian is dealing with rapid expansion across the organization: 35 percent year-on-year growth, between 300 and 400 open vacancies at any given point, and 1,000 new hires in the past year. The firm’s CIO, Archana Rao, explained that recruiting this number of talented people has been possible as the company isn’t tied to outdated hierarchical structures.

Grads and interns are listened to and given a voice to feedback on the work of even the most senior team members – Rao included. It’s this diversity of thought that helps drive better decisions and outcomes.

New places to find tech talent

One of our mums was out of work for 11 years, but she got her first job and she's doing exceptionally well, she’s been there two years now.

Why? There are currently an estimated 600,000 vacancies in digital technology across the UK alone, costing the country billions each year in lost revenues.

Enter a mums army of IT professionals. Salesforce Supermums was established in 2016 by Heather Black, who had built up a successful business as a freelance Salesforce consultant. She realised the potential to use the flexibility of working in technology as a hook to get other women retrained and back to work after having children.

Of those mums who have completed the course, 85 percent landed a job within three months, and Supermums is expanding to the US and Australia next year.

Men and women working together

As a guy, one of the things that was hard for me to do was to talk to a young woman and say, so how do you think I'm doing? 

Why? One of the oft-echoed concerns around the women in tech debate is that too often, it excludes or overlooks the importance of men. During a SAPPHIRENow panel, Paul Khanna, principal at Deloitte Consulting, gave a useful perspective from a male point of view.

Khanna encouraged other men to follow his example in seeking out advice from women on what men can do better to support diversity. While he expected to hear some difficult feedback, he found the experience genuinely helpful, with lots of positivity focusing on what he could do more of rather than stop doing.

Relatable role models

I don’t come into contact with anywhere near as many women in development roles as I do men in the wider industry.

Why? To mark International Women’s Day 2019, I talked to newcomers to the technology industry to hear about their experiences so far, and whether they felt truly welcome and of equal status as men. One message that resonated was the continuing lack of relatable role models for women starting a career in the sector.

While the women were all able to point to more senior women in tech they could aspire to, the views highlight a potential need for more networking groups that target women in junior positions or at early stages of their tech careers to offer more practical support and shared experiences, and also more opportunities for these women to represent their organizations at events, to show others there are people out there who look like them.

Setting diversity targets

For large institutions, they set targets and timeframes for things that are important, whether it's revenues and so on. So it’s a testimony that it's important. 

Why? Salesforce has already been mentioned in this round-up for the focus it gives to equality at its annual Dreamforce event. But the firm continues this work year round, with initiatives to ensure equal pay and build a more diverse workforce. Salesforce’s latest equality stats show movement across the board in the right direction but highlight more work to do.

The firm has now set itself a public equality target: for the workforce to be at 50% women, under-represented minorities, LGBTQ+, veterans and people with disabilities by 2023; currently those groups account for 43.9% in total. The industry might still be divided over the notion of diversity quotas, but while the proportion of women and under-represented groups continue to rise at such a slow pace, perhaps it’s time for more organizations to take more affirmative action.

Take control of your own career

You are the most important enabler or barrier to your career.

Why? This was another really useful and practical session from the Women of Silicon Roundabout event. Supermarket giant Tesco finished the first run of its new Own Your Career program earlier in 2019, a scheme to give women a blueprint for progressing their career.

Tesco Learning Manager Esther Basra went into detail on the four themes of the program - Effective career development, Building active relationships, Self-assurance and Authentic leadership - offering a useful framework for other companies wanting to build their own career development schemes, and for women in general, who can follow the advice and take control of their own job progression.

Joined-up approach

There are many great initiatives out there, so my advice would be to join forces with others. It’s only through better collaboration on targeted initiatives that we’ll create long term and meaningful change.

Why? Another common theme in the women in tech debate is that by the time girls reach secondary school, it can be too late to instil a passion for technology and persuade them to consider a career in tech. There are now hundreds of code clubs running at schools worldwide, with many targeting girls to try and avert this situation – I’ve even started one at my daughters’ East London primary school for this very reason.

But as Sheridan Ash, women in tech leader at PwC, cautioned, having too many disparate schemes won’t help the issue, especially those that rely on involvement or leadership from overworked and under-resourced teachers. In response, Ash set up the Tech She Can Charter as a way of bringing companies together to collaborate on tackling the root cause of too few women in technology roles; over 90 organizations have committed to delivering on the initiatives so far.

Diversity by default

Our industry, construction, is typically not that diverse. You’ve got a predominantly male population, and the recruitment process at many companies is more geared towards male candidates

Why? My final pick is one from my colleague and fellow woman in tech (journalism), Jessica Twentyman. This is a great example of a company you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be advanced in its approach to diversity, bucking the trend.

Family-owned UK construction company The Carey Group is using a cloud-based recruitment platform based on behavioural science to banish bias and build a more diverse team. The business targeted two particular aspects of recruitment: a reliance on traditional CVs and cover letters; and an excessive focus on formal skills and training at the expense of other attributes and talents.

Using the Applied platform has allowed The Carey Group to open up a wider pool of candidates and recruit transparently - so diversity happens by default.

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