2021 in review - the year in diversity and equality

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett December 20, 2021
Highlighting the tech companies and individuals taking strides to tackle inequality and injustice.


So another year is over, and for the second time, it’s been a year shaped by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted the huge social inequality affecting people across the globe, with women and the poorest hit hardest. It has also put even more importance on the efforts we make to ensure diversity, equality and inclusion across our organizations and institutions.

In 2020, the death of George Floyd sparked a mass movement against racial injustice; in 2021, the murder of Sarah Everard by a policeman sparked a wave of outrage and demonstrations across the UK against violence against women.

Unfortunately, we still live in an unequal and unjust world. Fortunately, many companies and individuals working in the technology sector are taking strides to tackle these inequalities and injustices. Here are my top 10 articles from a diginomica year in diversity, inclusion and equality.

The battle for talent and inequality at work - two problems, one major headache for businesses

When you want to just fill the job, you forget about who's not at the table.

Why? The Great Resignation has become a key theme for 2021, as more of us choose to leave our jobs and do something totally different. This has left firms struggling to fill vacancies and retain talent, which in some cases can be used as an excuse for not recruiting and building diverse teams.

At NetSuite’s SuiteWorld, Darlene Slaughter, Chief Diversity Officer at March of Dimes Foundation, warned that when the priority is to just get someone in that role, it’s easy to overlook who is under-represented at your organization. Instead, recruiters should slow down the process, take a step back and look at who else they should be targeting to ensure diversity and inclusion remains core to the hiring process.

Danielle Kayembe of FQ Impact also shared some pretty alarming statistics during the session, including that only 26% of jobs in the tech space are held by women, 6% by Asian women, 3% African American women and 2% Hispanic women. With such low numbers of women of all ethnicities working in tech, now is not the time to prioritise filling a vacancy with whoever happens to be available (which is most likely to be a white man).

Black History Month - quotas are pointless if you have a ‘leaky bucket’, says Workday’s Chief Diversity Officer

You can set the quotas and you can get people to come, but if people don't feel like they belong or they don't feel included, they're not going to stay.

Why? Black History Month takes place each February in the US. To mark the event this year, I spoke to four women tech leaders to find out how their company is promoting racial equality and their path to the top.

Carin Taylor, Chief Diversity Officer at Workday, advised against focusing on diversity solely at the recruitment stage. Instead, inclusion and belonging need to be just as important, to ensure staff from under-represented groups stay and flourish within the organization.

You can also read our BHM profiles of Alexandra Siegel, Director of Equality and Recruiting Content & Enablement at Salesforce, Judith Michelle Williams, Head of People Sustainability and Chief Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) officer at SAP and HP’s Chief Diversity Officer Lesley Slaton Brown.

International Women’s Day - lessons learned by three female business leaders during their 'guilt-free' careers

The world wants to judge us on everything. Each of us needs to decide what we're willing to be judged on.

Why? I always look forward to marking this day each year – although diginomica focuses on diversity throughout the year, not just with the one women in tech article each March.

To mark IWD 2021, three women leaders reflected on their careers and lessons learned as part of Salesforce's Trailblazing Women event. The above quote is from Shellye Archambeau, former CEO of Silicon Valley governance and compliance specialist MetricStream and board member at Verizon, Roper Technologies and Okta. She implored women to stop being so hard on themselves and feeling guilty all the time – advice I can definitely relate to.

Diversity and skills - the challenges (and opportunities) facing Salesforce's new UK CEO

It is non-negotiable and it is our biggest focus. If I don't do it, I'll be really, really angry.

Why? I caught up with Zahra Bahrololoumi, Salesforce’s Executive Vice President and CEO for Salesforce UK and Ireland (UKI), in July when she was just four months into the job.

One of the first challenges she faces involves hitting some pretty hefty recruitment numbers: over the next two years, Salesforce expects to create over 1,000 new jobs. While Bahrololoumi isn’t concerned about being able to fill the vacancies, more of a challenge is how to ensure these roles get filled in line with diversity and inclusion targets. For Bahrololoumi, this is non-negotiable.

HP Inc aims to have a 50% female executive leadership by 2030. Here’s the plan

It's important that we're reflective of our customer base, and so it's important that we bring in leadership that reflects that. We don't have to wait until 2040 and 2045 and 2050 for that to happen.

Why? HP went public this year with some ambitious targets to increase gender and racial diversity, including increasing the number of women in leadership roles from 31% to 50% by the end of the decade. The firm is also hoping to use its influence in the market to encourage a trickle-down effect among its suppliers, aiming for 10% of HP diversity spend to be with Black and African American suppliers by 2022. 

Lesley Slaton Brown, Chief Diversity Officer at HP, explained that by sharing its ambitious goals, the business hopes to foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive tech industry.

Assistive technology at work - Bosma eyes up job opportunities for the blind and visually-impaired

We believe in the ability that technology can create an equal playing field for all, regardless of visual acuity.

Why? While gender and race are the aspects of diversity and inclusion most focused on within the technology sector, there are many other facets, including the differently abled. Here was an example of how technology is empowering another demographic in the workforce: blind or visually impaired people.

Brian Petraits, Director of Manufacturing at Bosma and one of the firm’s blind employees, shared how the warehousing and logistics firm is using the OrCam MyEye wearable device to level up the playing field. Bosma staff can use the clip-on text reader in the warehouse to take on new roles; or outside of work, offering a greater level of independence. A useful example of technology as the great equalizer.

Bringing a 17th century business into the digital era - how Lloyd's of London executed its transformation

When I looked at why Lloyd’s hadn't changed over three centuries, I realized that it was a group of homogenous people, who had been hiring people just like themselves for so many years, so many centuries. They'd formed this very cosy club and nobody wanted to rock the boat, wanted to challenge anyone, criticize anyone.

Why? Dame Inga Beale, former CEO of Lloyd’s of London, is a firm believer that digital transformation has to go alongside diversity and inclusion. When she joined the business in 2013, she realised there was a huge challenge ahead to modernize this centuries-old insurance business, one that required an update of Lloyd’s entire brand and image. Initially meeting a wall of resistance to change, Beale quickly understood the problem was that people weren’t being included in the process.

A dramatic culture shift was needed to ensure a successful digital transformation, and hence diversity and inclusion became an important parallel piece of work alongside the technology update.

Beale enjoyed many successes during her tenure, including shifting her executive team from all-male to a 50/50 gender split within her first 18 months. However, she noted that her replacement as CEO was the “typical white man put in charge again”, and she’d heard reports of some in the business saying ‘thank goodness Inga's gone, now we don't have to talk about this diversity and inclusion anymore’.

Takeaway: D&I shouldn’t be associated with a particular person or leader, it should be an ongoing part of company culture.

EVOLVE21 - diversity isn’t about the systems we need to fix, it’s about people

When.I see people self-identify as ally, it's almost like it's about them. It's not about you. It's about the person on the other side of the table.

Why? There has been much focus this year on being an ally. I like this take from Rocki Howard, Chief People And Equity Officer at The Mom Project, who urged people to refrain from calling themselves an ally – instead, be one and show it. This includes reading about and listening to what's going on with that community, and understanding what is impacting people.

She also tried to allay concerns people might have about saying the wrong thing or offending someone, explaining that she screws up every day – what’s important is to learn from it, and be humble enough to make the mistake and then show up again.

The Future of Work's diversity challenge - prevent hybrid working models from fuelling a gender imbalance

I don’t think the flexible working campaign before COVID could have envisaged the dark scenario that’s come about in some instances, with some women having to give up their jobs after being unable to balance caring roles or finding themselves potentially exposed to more domestic violence.

Why? There has been much evidence of the pandemic’s negative impact on women. This is a thought-provoking piece by my colleague and fellow diversity champion Cath Everett on how the hybrid working models likely to pre-dominate in the Vaccine Economy could further exacerbate gender inequality.

AI, bro? No! How do we stop AI being the next tech 'bro' domain?

Where there began to be more prestige, money and the idea of power in the computing industry as a whole, this is when men began to take dominance. We see this repeating itself in AI.

Why? At this year’s CogX Festival, we heard examples of how biased artificial intelligence is already, and that some quick action is needed to turn this around.

Erin Young, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The Alan Turing Institute, pointed out that AI is shaped in so many ways by the people who build the systems, and they happen to be mainly men. It reflects their history, values and choices, which means there is potential for biases to seep in at every stage.

Attracting and training more diverse candidates to AI roles is critical if we want this area of technology to ever reflect wider society.

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