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Tech Talent Charter closes as diversity struggles for recognition

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth July 2, 2024
diginomica digital careers report - leaders and forums cannot find the diverse talent industry needs in the UK

Diversity And Inclusion. Business Employment Leadership. People Silhouettes © Andrey_Popov - Shutterstock
(© Andrey_Popov - Shutterstock)

Digital leaders were surprised and saddened to hear that the UK's Tech Talent Charter is closing down. Founded in 2015, the organization sought to increase diversity across the technology sector and received support from the current UK government, as well as over 700 industry signatures.

In a pointed note to the industry, the  Tech Talent Charter said improving diversity was being sidelined: 

While just three years ago, companies were vocally committing to improving equality, posting black squares on their social media and investing in their action plans for improving D&I, today, the direction of travel has shifted.

Tech Talent Charter agrees with last year's findings by the World Economic Forum that diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives in the US are under threat, and its own report, which surveyed 700 UK tech employers, found a similar turn of the tide, as it describes the situation. 

The organization was founded and is now closing during times of significant economic change. In 2015, the UK had the fastest-growing economy in Europe as the nation recovered from the banking crisis. However, since 2016, the UK economy has been one of the worst performers on the continent.

Set up to show how to deliver greater diversity, as well as explain why the issue is important, Tech Talent Charter aimed to ensure that the fastest-growing sector in the economy represented the wider society. In its closure note, it said: 

We believed that the best way to drive real progress was to work with the industry at scale, facilitate collaboration, not competition, and build a community of industry leaders to amplify issues, insights, and trends across the industry. To focus on the how, not just the why of inclusion.

Far from improving, diversity has, or is declining, the Tech Talent Charter says: 

The issue has not gone away, but, fuelled by economic, political, and social pressures, too many organizations are 'quiet-quitting' their D&I strategies, putting all that has been achieved at risk.

Many in our networks are reporting that their organization's D&I strategies are becoming increasingly insular, and initiatives are being shelved to prioritize other business goals. We are hearing more and more stories from D&I specialists and advocates battling for support as their teams are dismantled, their processes eliminated or absorbed, or who are being forced to step back from voluntary efforts due to changing business attitudes and overburdened desks.

Tech Talent Charter hopes that closing down their organization will act as an alarm:

We intend our closure to be a rallying call and a catalyst for reflection, and for renewed greater commitment by the sector, and to energize deeper action in the space. 

Our decision to close is driven by the hope that it will amplify the need for renewed focus. We believe this inflection point is essential to refocusing efforts, refining methods, and driving greater commitment and investment at a systemic, industry, and regional level.

The trade association techUK will ensure the research and resource materials created by Tech Talent Charter continue to be available. 

Digital leadership concerns

CIOs across the UK were worried to read that Tech Talent Charter is closing down. Group CIO of UK tech firm The Access Group Conor Whelan says: 

This is so sad and bloody frustrating to read! This still remains a priority in the last two organizations that I have worked in.

Mary O Callaghan, Director of Technology at charity The British Heart Foundation, says: 

I really hope a new collective effort will emerge as this is too important.

David Henderson, Chief Technology and Product Officer with media firm Global, said:

We have to increase our own efforts in our own teams as best we can and share good practices with our other networks. Tech Talent Charter helped immensely at the time, and the team were passionate about improving D&I.

Global was a signatory to the charter and principal partner alongside fellow media firm Sky, bank Lloyds, PWC, and HP. Whelan agrees with Henderson on the need to keep the momentum going despite the closure: 

This is a complex problem to solve, which needs to be debated throughout society, as we alone can not solve it. However, we can champion the debate.

The CTO of a major medical not-for-profit organization highlights the challenge digital leaders face: 

I've just spent over 12 months recruiting a new leadership team, all bar one role, none are female. At every juncture, for each post, the female candidates out-priced themselves by £20-30,000. They've simply become out of our budget reach. Flipping the situation, at every juncture, I looked to train up. The gap was just too big - I still have outcomes to achieve and finite hours in a day. It's been unbelievably hard. 

I tried all recruitment angles, approaches, styles, and targeted effort, but it's not through lack of desire or want. Now, our statistics are skewed because I have hired senior men. I genuinely believe in time; we can move the needle together, and there will be a way.

Whelan responds: 

Diverse candidates are at times priced out of the market. So who is to blame? I blame no one too harshly. The candidates (assuming they have the right skills and are not being over-promoted) are winning with a higher package! That being said, companies and budgets are struggling to keep up, a trend I don't see getting any more easier in the short to medium term. 

This is a classic supply and demand issue; not enough supply in our industry. So, to solve the supply side, we have to start recruiting talent at all levels for these types of roles and career paths and make our industry much more attractive to the wider audience. Just one angle of a much wider debate.

Despite the major challenges to the UK economy, former CIO and chair of the Charity IT Leaders forum Laura Dawson says: 

We cannot let the good work Debbie (co-founder Debbie Forster) and her team did degrade. Diversity in the workforce and particularly in technology is essential.

Women held less than 15% of tech roles in the UK in 2015, when the Tech Talent Charter was formed. The founders were and remain worried that poor diversity will have a negative impact on the success of the tech sector in the UK and its ability to attract, retain and develop talent. Sad as the closure is, Tech Talent Charter has had some notable successes.

The number of women in tech roles has doubled, a community approach has connected many women in tech, and a wealth of information on D&I has been produced for digital leaders to use. 

June role changes

Trade show firm IMEX Group has appointed its CIO Gary Coombs as Chief Operator Officer, a new role for the UK based business. Coombs joined IMEX in 2021 as CIO, and he will remain in control of IT and transformation. As COO, Coombs will also take charge of the Operations department and marketing. 

In the cruise holidays industry, Tracy Aldhouse Gold has become Director of Technology Engineering at Carnival UK and the operator of the Cunard and P&O Cruises brands. Aldhouse Gold joins from business publishing firm Informa, where she was Head of Technology for two years. 

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has recruited experienced media CIO Paul Dale as its Chief Technology and Product Officer in an executive leadership role that will include leading the BBFC's response to artificial intelligence. Dale will head up an AI Product and Development team; he has been working with the BBFC as a consultant since September 2023. 

In the US, Texas Woman's University has recruited Henry G Torres as CIO. Torres joins from the Arkansas State University System. 

Automotive firm Mazda has recruited Neeru Arora as the CIO of Mazda North American Operations, its business unit for this vital market for car makers. Arora will start with the firm on July 8, 2024, and has been tasked with delivering analytics for governance and cyber protection. 

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