A couple of weeks ago it was Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace, a mathematician born in 1815, devised what is widely recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. As such she is celebrated globally as the first computer programmer.
I believe that it’s important to continue to celebrate Ada’s achievement, not only because she is a role model for women in STEM around the world and undoubtedly helped to inspire them, but also because it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the need for workplace diversity.
As a recruiter at ThinkersConnect, I’m interested to understand more about what can be done to contribute to a more diverse approach to talent acquisition in technology. That’s why I spent a hugely enjoyable evening at Tech London Advocates’ Diversity in Tech event at HereEast, Stratford’s impressive new innovation hub. Expert speakers, including Baroness Martha Lane Fox (Doteveryone), Maggie Philbin (Teentech), Rajesh Agrawal (Deputy Mayor for Business), Andrea Bertone (Monster) and Arjun Kharpal (CNBC), shone a light on issues concerning diversity in London’s tech scene, while proposing new approaches.
Here, I learnt that less than 20% of start-ups in London are led by women and that a staggering two million people in the UK still aren’t connected to the internet, highlighting a massive digital skills gap in our modern day society.
Baroness Lane Fox outlined a study which revealed that, while 92% of CEOs were pro-diversity, they weren’t actually taking any steps to address the issue. Perhaps this is because just 54% of individuals quizzed believed that diversity is good for business; the remainder presumably favouring the continuation of archaic hierarchical approaches.
So, what is workplace diversity, does it need improving and if so, how?
In simple terms, diversity is recognising the uniqueness of individuals. In a business context, it means understanding that everyone has a role to play, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, physical abilities, sexual orientation, religious and political beliefs, education or socio-economic status.
There’s a real business case for acting on diversity in the workplace and this is particularly apparent in the tech arena. By proactively recruiting people from a variety of backgrounds, employers will see an increase in beliefs and opinions which better represent society at large. This broader perspective often leads to agility and innovation, ultimately creating competitive advantage and the opportunity to diversify into new markets. Indeed, a wider set of cultural standpoints and languages can bring transformational power to an organisations’ ability to do business on an international footing.
From an employee’s perspective, a diverse workplace promotes cohesion and greater respect for others which can improve employee morale, motivation, team-working and productivity. This in turn can engender a more progressive, creative and dynamic workplace with improved staff retention and improved employer/employee relations.
From my perspective as a specialist digital and technology recruiter, better diversity management gives our clients access to a larger talent pool and the ability to tap into a wider range of skillsets.
So, two hundred years after Ada Lovelace’s breakthrough, what can still be holding us back? Well, resistance to change is always a big one. Although this shouldn’t really be the case in entrepreneurial disruptive technology companies, there are always those who favour a status quo culture. Another is communication. With a less homogenous set of employees comes a wider array of languages and perspectives and overcoming cultural barriers can be a real hurdle in some organisations.
I firmly believe that these challenges are easily overcome in today’s workplace. To not do so will stifle competitive edge, prevent new ideas coming to fruition, even potentially hold Brit-tech talent back in a post-Brexit era.
While it’s clear that a great deal still needs to be done to improve diversity in the workplace, I’m glad to see steps being taken to improve access to technology through coding schools, start-up accelerators and online communities: organisations like Ada’s List, Makers Academy, Founders4Schools and Acorn Aspirations. I plan to speak to these modern day champions as I continue to learn more about the issues surrounding diversity in technology.
Perhaps you might consider doing this too?
Until next time…