Creating diversity in tech teams isn’t about ticking boxes, it’s about blending the best minds for the tasks ahead.
This October, we worked with DevelopHer to bring together a panel of senior tech leaders to explore, discuss and share their experiences of creating and maintaining diversity in their teams. Here, we reveal their top recommendations on how to overcome some common barriers to diversifying your team in order to further accelerate your business' growth.
1. Educate your organisation
The importance of education that reaches from top to the bottom and into the heart of your organisation can’t be underestimated. This is especially the case for start-ups, where growth is rapid, or in companies with leaders who lack experience in dealing with diversity.
Create a board or a committee to champion the cause and be inclusive – men, women, varying ages, and different ethnicities should all be involved. Get more buy-in with a data-based business case to make people realise that everyone wins from diversity.
“Diverse companies have a 45% increased chance of growing their market share.
75% have an increased chance of capturing new markets.”
Debbie Forster (MBE)
Education doesn’t start in the workplace. The opportunity is ripe for organisations to develop long-term awareness strategies, starting with technology workshops for children. Schools and parents should be encouraging girls to learn digital skills from as young as 10, using the creative capabilities of technology to inspire them – like building apps, robots and games – and grow their confidence in the possibility of a tech career.
2. Gather data at every step
Gather data at every step of an employee’s journey, from start to finish. Data has never been more accessible, with so many companies offering survey services today. For Debbie Forster, of Tech Talent Charter, data gathering helps them to create benchmarks for business cases.
3. Lose the ‘the right fit’ approach
It is essential to create an environment where employees are comfortable with co-workers who have different backgrounds and experiences. Humans are change-averse, so mixing the team will need a mindset shift which might be awkward at first!
Start by losing the ‘not the right fit’ excuse for your hires. What you’re saying is they’re ‘not like us’. Diversity is about having a culture that can accommodate different values. If the team is ‘like us', then you aren’t truly diverse and you won’t understand your customer base, as Debbie states.
“What I like about diversity is that it brings people together from different journeys.
This experience enriches the company in looking at a new way of doing things and new revenue streams – that might not have come from a traditional fit.”
Reem Zahran (CIO, Kantar Media)
4. Look beyond traditional talent pools
Reem Zahran, CIO at Kantar Media, believes awareness and confidence are two main barriers. “I’ve spoken to lots of recruiters and there is a lack of awareness of what the possibilities are for returning woman and how they plug in.”
Look to communities, organisations and agencies, like La Fosse, who are committed to fishing in different talent pools. Consider internships from different communities or returnships for mothers re-entering the workforce, and older talent from different professions who come with a wider life and business experience. You’ll end up with a much richer talent resource.
“We run events for women with different backgrounds, who are interested in a tech career, but lack confidence. They meet established industry members, work out whether tech is right for them and to network with businesses looking to hire.”
Eniko Tarkany-Szucs (DevelopHer)
5. Re-word your job descriptions
The wording you use in your job descriptions and recruitment ads can have a profound impact on the applicants you attract. For example, if you use words like ‘master’ or ‘experienced,’ you’re less likely to attract minority groups.
“Stereotypically, men who feel they meet 40-50% of the criteria will apply for a role.
A woman needs to meet 90% to have the confidence to apply.”
Debbie Forster (MBE)
6. Consider diversity partnerships
There are many industry bodies who offer excellent training packages on subjects such as unconscious bias. Reach out to other organisations to learn what they’re doing to tackle the issues and share your own experiences.
“One of the reasons that Tech Talent Charter came about,” explains Debbie, “is that I couldn’t go to another roundtable event to 'solve the problem." We need to stop reinventing the wheel – there are resources, available now, with the right solution for your industry. We just must make sure that everyone in the industry shares their knowledge, and is on the same page.
It’s also got to be a team effort, not just the executives worrying about it or a grassroots movement - they both need to be aligned. If you don’t do it together, then change won’t happen. “It’s great that there are lots of initiatives,” explains Reem, “There is a lot of talk about inclusion and diversity, but what practically happens is a little unknown. Sponsorships, roles models and partnerships can work to get it moving.”
7. Loosen your working processes
“The more flexible you make your working processes, the wider your talent pool is going to be and the greater your retention rate.” explains Debbie. By loosening your working processes, you’ll attract more women and those working outside of London. Technology is creative and we have the tools to do it.
8. Set up mentorship schemes
Coaching and mentoring initiatives help minorities feel supported, build confidence and encourage them to move up the career ladder. Women with male coaches and vice versa will benefit from the different perspectives. You could consider reverse mentorships as well, where younger digital natives coach older employees on new tools and technologies.
And if you’re worried about workers doing well and then leaving, don’t be. “Why wouldn’t you send someone out who has a good experience of your organisation and can be an advocate?” states Debbie.
"The companies who survive are the companies who are willing to open the doors to do other things. Companies who understand that doing good is good business are the ones who are thriving and who will be around in the future."
9. Consider cultural nuances
Inclusion and diversity differs in different regions, so enter with your eyes wide open. What works in England might not elsewhere. Find local champions, use local data and get an understanding of what the region’s core barriers are. Always be sensitive to how you deliver the change, if it comes from a global HQ, then don’t try and drop it on them from high! Work with them on their own journey.
10. Talk about inclusion, not just diversity.
The world was up in arms over the recent memo from Google engineer James Damore and his public criticism of the company’s diversity efforts. And while he received a fierce backlash, our speakers argued that there were some positives to be taken from it, because in the end, it's brought the issue to the top of the news and has sparked an important discussion around the subject of diversity versus inclusion. And in the words of Debbie, “With inclusion, everyone wins.”
We're serious about diversity and inclusion; we are committed to both maintaining an inclusive workplace, and helping our clients to build diverse teams. Additionally, we've sponsored organisations such as Girls in Tech UK, and are signatories of the Tech Talent Charter.
This event was hosted by Tillie Hands of our Permanent Architecture Team. She hosts regular events to add value to the community she serves by helping them share insight and grow their networks.
Get in touch to learn more about our upcoming events, or to discuss how we can help you to establish and maintain a diverse team: Tillie.Hands@lafosse.com
With special thanks to our panel:
Debbie Forster MBE
Debbie is leading the Tech Talent Charter initiative and was named by WISE as Woman of the Year for 2016
Satyen is a Senior Director at Edelman, the global communications marketing agency.
Reem is the CIO at Kantar Media and leads the way with Diversity meet ups within the workplace.
Eniko is on the board for DevelopHer, the non-profit community dedicated to bringing women in technology together and works as a Solution Consultant at Sprinklr, the social media start up.
Where to next?
Find out how our Talent Strategy practice can help you create a sustainable D&I programme.