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The Inclusion Gap: are we heading for a technology innovation crisis?

The world needs new solutions to problems. Look at what has developed over the last year during the pandemic through technology. From testing to diagnostics, to video platforms and phone apps. It’s technology that enables us to solve problems. And creating new, innovative ways to solve these problems needs different kinds of people to be included.  It’s these varied perspectives that create new ideas and solutions. If we fail to include different people to create new tech, is technology innovation in crisis?

The technical and creative skills we need to solve problems are constantly evolving too. For new solutions, we need people focusing on areas such as data analysis and AI, as well as new hardware. We have a looming digital skills crisis, caused by a sharp fall in young people studying IT courses.  We need people with a range of perspectives and from varied backgrounds to be learning and developing these skills. And we are behind the curve in the UK with only around half of UK employees using AI to work faster and smarter, compared with 69% globally.

So as that’s the case, why is there still so far to go in increasing diversity in technology industries? The APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM found that the STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Maths) sector has a lower share of female workers and people with disabilities. And there are a good share of those with Indian ethnicity, but under-representation from other minority ethnic backgrounds.

The UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering of any European country, with women making up just 10% of roles and 14% of engineering places. So, it seems that this issue starts in early career and education choices. And just 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech sector are held by women.

And as Tech Talent Charter notes in their report, only 9% of BAME IT specialists are Directors. So while there is more representation of ethnicities, notably those of Indian ethnicity, only a small percentage reach senior roles.

Many companies are still not seeing that diversity in their teams, and including people with different backgrounds and perspectives needs to be a key strategic priority.

Why bother?

Well including people from a diverse range of backgrounds should be a given. It should be that no matter what your background, life experiences, or connections, that you can achieve the goals you set out for yourself. After all, if you can be the person who discovers a groundbreaking innovation to solve the world’s problems, then surely everyone wants you to be involved? Sadly that’s not the case. For many organisations, there is still a lot of learning to do about why this matters.

The benefits from a diverse workforce are clear and well-researched. This is particularly a factor for technology companies who need innovation to succeed. Diverse teams are proven to create more new ideas, more innovation, make decisions more quickly and make better decisions. In a Forbes report, they found that close to 85% of large global enterprises believe that workforce diversity is critical in driving innovation. And that teams with greater diversity generate around 41% more revenue for their employer. There are UK government-sponsored research studies into this, and McKinsey publishes extensive research on this too.

Despite all this research, and work by many groups on diversity and inclusion initiatives, we are still in a place where companies are dominated by the same types of people. Are we going to continue having these conversations and go around in a circular loop, or do something about it?

Tech Talent Charter

At Watch This Sp_ce our mission is to address these gaps in representation. We work with companies to reimagine how they work to include everyone. And there is no quick fix to this. No easy boxes to tick and the work cannot be done overnight. It needs senior leadership involvement, employee engagement, and a clear program of work.

And there’s so much involved in working on this too, as there are a lot of people to persuade, convince and educate about why it’s vital to have many different types of people included in teams. And for all those different people who need to be included, it’s not enough to be hired as token gestures, and then not included in decisions, in senior roles, and in the different types of conversations that happen in an organisation.

This is no ‘nice to have’. The future without a wide range of people included, with decisions being taken by just one type of person, is pretty bleak. For the world we face, the problems that need to be solved and the decisions that need to be made, it is crucial to bring everyone to those tables.

So that’s why we have signed up to the Tech Talent Charter. We know there is a desire amongst many employers to increase diversity and inclusion in their teams but many struggle to take action to address this. We will be joining discussions across different organisations, taking part in hacks, and joining events to work with people across different sectors to make a tangible difference. The Tech Talent Charter exists to address ‘inequality in the UK tech sector and drive inclusion and diversity in a practical and uniquely measurable way.’

We encourage you to sign up too!

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