It’s time to take positive action to create a more diverse tech workforce

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The rallying cry for diversity within the tech sector has been running for some time, and it is getting progressively louder. 2018 has been a landmark year for diversity and inclusion (D&I), with 11,000 of the UK’s largest employers publishing their first gender pay gap statistics. While the situation has improved somewhat from where it was three decades ago, we are still a long way off where things should be, not only with gender diversity, but also in other areas including ethnicity, workers with disabilities, age and LGBT.

Technology companies have a big role to play in driving the diversity agenda forward in the right direction, but how can they be more effective and progress more quickly?

The benefits of leading the charge for D&I

When business leaders commit to authentic action on diversity, it sends a powerful message to the whole organisation: diversity and inclusion is almost always a competitive advantage, and a critical factor in a company’s overall success. Research from McKinsey and Deloitte both cite the benefits of a diverse workforce and board—including increased profitability, diversity of thought, a more comprehensive understanding of customers, and reduced groupthink, which is a situation where the desire for conformity results in poor decision-making.

In the technology sector Dell EMC operates in, we support a diverse, global market; so it makes sense that this is mirrored in our employee base who offer a range of perspectives and approaches from different cultures, age groups and genders. Our goal is to think more laterally and broadly about problems and solutions, and ultimately become more innovative and competitive. A homogenous workforce becomes can become insular and out of touch.

Encouraging teams to get involved in creating an inclusive environment within their workplace gives employees confidence that they have the support of their management team to play their part in helping to address this issue. Leaders and their teams will be a powerful combination in advancing organisations more quickly to a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.

Building your talent pool

In the UK, there is a growing shortage of skilled tech workers, an issue that is showing no signs in slowing. The Open University’s 2018 Business Barometer estimates the direct cost of skills shortages at £6.3 billion each year, with an estimated 600,000 tech vacancies in the UK, a figure predicted to reach one million by 2020.  Businesses will need to be able to recruit and retain staff from all walks of life, in order to sustain the hyper-growth we’re seeing in the technology industry currently, and to fuel the success of the UK economy.

The financial impact is not the only drawback of the skills shortage. Around half of organisations (47 per cent) say they are not as agile as they need to be, due to a lack of skills. The volatile political and economic climate we operate in today has meant organisations need to have the flexibility in place to stay afloat. A large part of this comes down to the diverse skillsets you’re nurturing within the workforce.

What can you do to embrace a more inclusive workforce?

We all have internal unconscious bias. Helping leaders identify where this lies can help different groups feel more included. For example, the location and time of a meeting can seem like such a simple, even mundane task, that shouldn’t require much thought. But it becomes important to consider the time of day you arrange the meeting to ensure it doesn’t exclude parents of young children who are limited by nursery opening times, or people with disabilities who are dependent on public transport schedules and routes. Being considerate of these sensitivities demonstrates acceptance and understanding of what others have to manage in their daily lives, and reinforces interest in creating an inclusive environment that will be attractive to a broader pool of highly skilled workers who will be an asset to the business.

At Dell, we’re strong believers in the Many Advocating Real Change programme (MARC) which opens your eyes to all types of diversity considerations that you might not have thought about before, such as whether someone has had a university education or is a carer outside of work. Once you’re really aware of how diverse our societies are, as well as all the ways in which employees from all walks of life are also very similar, you can start to take the necessary steps to create an inclusive workplace that mitigates any unconscious bias.

At Dell, we have 13 Employee Resource Groups that aim to connect team members around areas such as gender, age, ethnicity, LGBT or people with disabilities. These groups get together and feed back to management about different issues that they feel passionately about. This acts as a listening post and gives employees a voice in the company and provides opportunities for personal and professional development for team members whatever their background and personal situation.

Partnering with educational organisations is also an important part of a successful D&I approach as different age groups often have very different perspectives and approaches that benefit teams. It has the added benefit of helping to train the future workforce and attract them to careers in IT. Our ‘STEMAspire’ initiative pairs students with personal mentors, advising them how to bridge the gap between higher education and a professional career in technology. Making diverse role models more visible can be very powerful. When people can see others like themselves moving into technology roles, they’re more likely to see themselves following in their footsteps.

A logical step to make

The impetus for true inclusion within an organisation has grown significantly in recent years. Teams with a broader range of experiences and perspectives perform better, and diverse businesses are more likely to understand the needs of a wider range of customers and clients.

Whilst diversity can certainly have positive impact on your bottom line, it is also fundamentally the right thing to do. Employees feel comfortable and happy in an environment where inclusivity is a priority, and are better able to achieve their potential. As businesses navigate the needs and wants of the next generation of employees, they must consider what makes their companies a great place to work. We recognise that this is not going to be an immediate change, but together with others, we can make positive strides to make a real difference.

Claire Vyvyan, Senior Vice President, UK & Ireland Commercial Business, Dell EMC UK & Ireland
Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock