2020 - the year in diversity and equality

Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett By Madeline Bennett December 28, 2020
Diversity and equality remained high on the enterprise agenda in 2020 - in part for two hugely unfortunate reasons...


This year, the equality debate was focused on and triggered by two things - the death of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the focus on diversity within the tech sector remains on women in tech, 2020 has seen the debate broaden out to encompass the role technology should play in fighting racial injustice and promoting allyship. Here are my top 10 articles from a diginomica year in diversity and equality.

In the name of Ada - Merici Vinton, CEO of Ada's List, on championing women in technology

We took some of the worst practices from the old world and applied them to the new world.

Why? I look back on my meeting with Merici Vinton, CEO of women in tech network Ada’s List, with a sense of nostalgia. We met in central London in late January. It was to be my last meeting before the pandemic shut the world down; all my meetings, interviews and events since have been via online video.

Vinton set up Ada’s List when she moved to the UK after a career in US politics working for Barack Obama and then Elizabeth Warren. She soon realised the UK was lacking the type of networking group and recruitment tool for women in tech that she’d been part of when working in US government.

However, while Ada’s List is thriving, with a current membership of 7,000-plus, Vinton bemoaned the fact that the technology industry missed the opportunity to build something new that would benefit everyone and be truly inclusive – and instead replicated the hierarchy of the old world.

International Women’s Day - the best resources for women in tech

Businesses simply aren’t looking in the right place or applying a forward-thinking attitude to attracting tech talent.

Why? International Women’s Day (IWD) fell on Sunday 8 March this year. To mark the annual event, I normally speak to different groups of women working in the industry to share their experiences and advice on overcoming challenges as a woman in tech. This year, I instead focused on researching the best networking groups to join, courses to sign up for and resources to make use of to get ahead in the industry.

Some of the most influential women in technology also shared their reasons behind setting up their own organisations. Beckie Taylor, CEO of Tech Returners, noted that while we are forever hearing about the IT skills gap, firms are missing out on the huge untapped talent pool that is the returner market.

Come together! Practical learnings for building an employee support network

A lot of women’s networks can become echo chambers.

Why? Taking place in late March, just as lockdowns were kicking in across much of the US and Europe, this was originally billed as an intimate meeting over lunch with some of the Salesforce Women’s Network team, but took place instead via online video – and it still proved useful.

Kristy Merson, leader in the Solution Engineering organization at Salesforce and outgoing president of the UK Salesforce Women’s Network, shared her tips on bringing employee groups together across a business. One of the key points she raised was the importance of reaching male colleagues, and ensuring they understood and supported the ethos and aims of women’s groups.

Broadcaster Soledad O'Brien tells ASUG that the current crisis will be a leveller for women in the workplace

I don't think we have the luxury as women to just dial it in, because you have the next woman who's coming behind you.

Why? It was tough choosing which quote to use for this article, as Soledad O’Brien packed out this online Q&A session with so many amusing anecdotes and frank insights into her life. Hosted by SAP user group ASUG Women Connect, the ex-CNN anchor offered her advice on navigating the new reality and challenges posed by the COVID-19 breakout.

This was in the very early days of the pandemic, and O’Brien was already encouraging women to take advantage of the new level playing field with everyone working from home to grab some time with the boss; and the importance of being present on work video calls with something to contribute.

She also called on women to understand their responsibility to others coming up the ladder behind them, as there’s still a tendency for firms to not hire another young woman or mother, if they have had a negative experience before – not something that happens with men, O’Brien noted.

Learning from Grace Hopper and Madonna - career inspirations for Tibco CIO Sharon Mandell

What dismays me a little bit today is, I hear that women don't feel that way about this career and that's not necessarily turning out to be true for them.

Why? Sharon Mandell, CIO at Tibco, has had a career in technology spanning 30-plus years, thanks in part to meeting role models like Grace Hopper and Adele Goldberg, co-creator of the Smalltalk language.

Since studying computing at university, Mandell has been mostly surrounded by men in her various roles, but has always felt that if she was delivering consistent results, people would want to work with her, irrespective of gender. She expressed her disappointment that women joining the industry now aren’t being offered the same opportunity.

Career progression, leaps of faith and 'imposter syndrome' - two women of color share their experiences of fashion tech

Everyone has ‘impostor syndrome’, whether they admit it or not. I certainly have. I still have it every day.

Why? At Black Tech Fest in October, Sian Keane, Chief People Officer at Farfetch and Vanessa Spence, Womenswear and Menswear Design Director at ASOS, shared their stories of breaking into and thriving in the fast-moving retail sector. Both women are involved in the newly launched Fashion Minority Alliance, which aims to support black and minority creatives in the fashion sector.

Stuart Lauchlan reported on the career journeys Keane and Spence had been on, and the need to be brave to grab the best opportunities. But as Keane admitted, that imposter syndrome is always there, even when you reach the top – fortunately she shared some helpful advice on overcoming that feeling.

Thank you for being a friend! Uncomfortable truths about allyship in the tech sector

I've got one rule about being an ally - if you talk about it, you’ve got to show up.

Why? The second of three entries in my top 10 from the excellent Black Tech Fest, which brought together so many fantastic speakers, who engaged in some really honest and valuable debate. Zendesk’s SVP EMEA Andrew Lawson was part of a panel discussing how to be a good ally – and all agreed that if you are going to champion a certain group or cause, you must be fully involved in events and the community, not just paying lip service.

Different experiences + different perspectives = better decision making - the neurodiversity HR equation

We don’t interview at all because social skills are not something that autistic people excel at.

Why? Janine Milne’s article explored why people with autism, dyslexia and other alternative thinking styles are largely ignored in the workplace. This is a massive missed opportunity: roughly one in 10 of the population are neurodivergent, with brains that learn and process information differently from the neurotypical majority. By proactively targeting neurodiverse candidates, firms can benefit from better decision making, creativity and innovation, and better engagement with customers as the customer base is usually a lot more diverse than the employee base.

Firms like IT consultancy Auticon have taken this one step further, exclusively hiring individuals on the autistic spectrum, and foregoing the traditional job interview in favour of an informal day event and workshop.

Diversity and inclusion will be an unintentional winner from COVID-19

I don't think that some of the conversations that we are having today about the future of work, about digitalization, about diversity, inclusion, representation, racism would have taken place - or at least to this extent and this intensity - if we hadn't had going through the pandemic, if we hadn't witnessed the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd.

Why? A group of D&I leaders took to the (virtual) Black Tech Fest stage to discuss what the tech industry achieved in 2020 regarding the fight for equality, and the work still to be done. The panel have all seen movement in the right direction this year, and as Kiessé Lamour, Head of Industry at Pinterest, noted this has stemmed from two events – the corononvirus pandemic and the death of George Floyd – which had unintended positive consequences.

Martha Lane Fox - why technology has to be at the heart of the post-COVID recovery

If we could take the entire British establishment and dump it in a better level of digital understanding, we would be light years ahead of where we are.

Why? In her new role as chair of the UK House of Lords COVID-19 Committee, Martha Lane Fox is spearheading a tech-centric national recovery. The tech entrepreneur spoke frankly about the many obstacles in her way, not least the outdated views towards digital among many government, public sector and industry leaders. It’s tricky to build back the most resilient, sustainable, inclusive and equitable nation, after all, if the UK is building its society and economy for 1820 rather than 2030.