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Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Tech Industry

The tech sector has woken up to DEI but there is still a long way to go

During the past couple of years, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has gained greater prominence in tech, as it has across other sectors. A wave of new industry initiatives, partnerships, events and discussions have sprung up and the clamour for positive change has grown louder.

But what is happening at an individual company level? Hot air or concrete action? Posturing or progress?

iResearch Services, a global data and insight-driven thought leadership agency, conducted a study of 550 executives in the technology industry in the lead-up to COP26 in late 2021, surveying leaders across 11 countries. The resulting ‘How Sustainable is Tech?’ report shows there are still plenty of barriers to overcome.

Promoting diversity and inclusion within a company should not be undertaken half-heartedly or without structure. The best starting point is a formal commitment. Their research found that the UK, Japan and Germany lead the way in this regard, with more than half of organisations having a formal commitment in place. France, China and Russia rank lowest with 35%, 36% and 38% respectively.

Lack of a plan

Worryingly, 12% of the organisations in the US say that they don’t have any plan to create a DEI programme, the highest among all countries. This correlates with the glaring gaps in initiatives and action in the US that are being highlighted in a raft of current campaigns from industry bodies and working groups, collaborating in an effort to effect change.

So, what are the main perceived barriers to more inclusive practices? Technology companies cite the following as the biggest challenges in addressing accessibility, diversity and inclusion in their organisations: cost (39%), time constraints (38%) and speed of initiatives (34%).

On top of that, regional differences exist. India faces a diverse set of challenges, with more than 40% of respondents citing six barriers. Attracting and retaining talent is the main challenge cited by respondents in China after cost, while organizations in the UK, France and Germany also have similar concerns.

Around 30 tech giants, including Google, Apple and Twitter, are part of an influential coalition that promises to take action. The 162-page Action to Catalyze Tech (ACT) report calls on tech companies to commit to bold, collective action by open-sourcing DEI best practices, encouraging collaboration on systemic solutions, and increasing accountability to drive change. It was instigated by a working group, which includes PwC among its founder members, and encourages more companies to become signatories. ACT recommendations include:

  • having a model and incentivising inclusive leadership and recognising DEI as a business imperative;
  • operationalising DEI throughout the business by applying a framework to address how to spend money, design and build products and think about talent;
  • sharing DEI demographic data with a new industry partner, the Tech Equity Accountability Mechanism, incubated by the Aspen Institute, to help create industry-wide standards for reporting; and
  • transforming future pathways into tech for underrepresented talent and helping solve the acute lack of computer science teachers from underrepresented backgrounds.

As the ACT report makes plain, “Tech’s current paradigm is often dispersed, individual, and short-term. Put simply, tech companies often poach each other’s talent from underrepresented groups. This is the HR equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”

The redistribution of existing diverse tech talent is a zero-sum game, and, in essence, does not offer real change. What’s really needed is a paradigm shift that sweeps away deep-rooted systemic barriers. Recruitment, retention and promotion/development systems must be redesigned to remove bias.

One area to consider regarding recruitment is candidate referrals. While this may be great for a quick appointment, it can limit diversity. If your team is scouring friend groups and networks, there is the potential for repeated recommendations of ‘people like you’. To prevent the perpetuation of a lack of diversity, a conscious effort must be made to fish for talent in various pools.

Leadership must take the bull by the horns, demonstrating full commitment to DEI. Success will only be achieved by establishing it as a business imperative.

The retention dimension

Amid the work to weave diversity tightly into attraction strategies, retention should not be overlooked. According to 2021 Tech Talent Charter research, 1 in 5 women were thinking of leaving the tech sector, with a lack of promotion opportunities (38%), lack of senior support/role models (33%) and sexism/gender bias (29%) among the big barriers to progress and job satisfaction they faced. Clearly, many tech employers still fall far short of the DEI gold standard.

Digging into iResearch Services ‘How Sustainable is Tech?’ data, most countries surveyed found that accessibility has a higher level of recognition than sustainability among companies in the technology sector.

Both Italy and Spain have 10% more respondents that think accessibility is especially important to their organizations, compared with sustainability. This is highest in the US (88%) and Germany (86%). China has the lowest recognition of the importance of accessibility, at 58%, and is the only country where accessibility is less recognised than sustainability.

While the tech industry is just scratching the surface across DEI, it believes that accessibility is firmly on the radar. Technology is a tool to make business and services more accessible for employees and end customers alike. As technology continues to evolve, new opportunities for assistive tools will emerge, further helping the drive towards fairness and diversity.

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