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Diversity is the key to the technology sector’s success

The issue of diversity in the workplace seems to never be out of the media spotlight for very long.

The tech industry by its nature should be forward thinking and a pioneer in embracing change. Yet, on the issue of diversity in the workplace it lags behind many traditional industries. Even new emerging and growing areas of technology, such as FinTech, have not produced a more diverse workforce. 

Indeed, things have gone backwards. A recent report released earlier this year from recruitment consultants Astbury Marsden revealed that under 10 per cent of board level positions in the top 50 British FinTech companies are held by women. The research also found that 69 per cent of the FinTech businesses surveyed have male-only boards.

The figures for other parts of the digital sector are more promising. London’s “Silicon Roundabout” has an 18 per cent uptake by women for board level positions - double the FinTech number. While this figure is more encouraging, a 2015 report from McKinsey stated that 366 businesses they researched in the UK, North America, and Latin America didn’t see a financial pay-off from gender diversity until women constituted at least 22 per cent of a senior executive team.

FTSE 100 companies typically have boards where 25 per cent of the directors are women, so at least this minimum criterion has been reached, but it is telling that not a single one of these successful giants has an all-male board.

I am a strong believer that diversity is beneficial for all parties. It is positive for professionals, both women and men, bringing different perspectives that are healthy for driving businesses forward in the constant search for innovation and competitive advantage. Most importantly, diversity is good for the bottom line. Research by Grant Thornton conducted with UK, US and Indian listed businesses found that diverse boards outperform all male boards by a staggering £430 billion. McKinsey’s research also revealed the most gender diverse leadership teams were 15 per cent more likely to report financial returns above their national average. It also found that inclusion of ethnic minorities also has a profound effect on financial performance.

My own experience with my compliance software business also reflects these findings, albeit from a different perspective. Our development team has an almost exact 50:50 split between men and women. I encourage diversity not only as a universal value we should aspire to, but it is also one that gives us a commercial advantage. Female developers bring a myriad of benefits: very high levels of creativity, energy and commitment. They are honest and sincere in their approach to the business and their work. It would be foolish to miss out on these benefits, even if it is from a selfish point of view and I most certainly do not entertain that stance.

So it occurred to me from early on in establishing V-Comply that we should find a way getting the most out of this talent pool. We introduced a policy that allows staff to work 4 hours but be paid for 60 per cent of the day.This enables many of those with family commitments to balance work and family. Without this scheme we would have missed out on many great professionals that have been core to our success.

Moreover, we have in the three years since we introduced the scheme retained virtually the entire team. This consistency and retention of knowledge has proved very valuable indeed. In fact, while writing this article, I noticed Amazon has just introduced a similar plan to ours – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I suppose!

It’s great to see others recognising and acting on the issue. Just think how much it costs to recruit staff. If this was the only benefit it would have still paid us back for our approach. As I finish writing this article I cannot help but think as I thumb or scroll through the pages of the media that I will come across the issue of diversity in technology for many years to come. Business is driven by the bottom line, anything else is generally viewed as a nice to have. Yet, diversity is about the bottom line.

Once we accept the overwhelming benefits of diversity in the tech industry we will no longer have to grapple with the issue because as entrepreneurs and business leaders will find a way to make it happen.

Harshvardan Kariwala is CEO of V-Comply (opens in new tab)

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