By Vijayanta Gupta, Global VP, Product & Industry Marketing, Sitecore

three women in tech working on laptops, gender diversityWhile the tech industry has taken strides in encouraging diversity and inclusion in recent years, the lack of representation of certain groups still needs to be addressed.

Recent research from McKinsey found that companies with diverse workforce have unlocked greater profitability and value creation, resulting in 33 per cent higher revenues.

The greater variety in background, thoughts, and experiences provides unique ideas that lead to more effective decisions being reached. People with different backgrounds and experiences often see the same issue in different ways and come up with a variety of solutions, increasing the odds that one of those could be the right fit for the business. They are also able to understand and have a better view of the different audiences an organisation is looking to reach. In a fast-changing ever-competitive environment, such responsiveness leaves businesses of all sizes and across all industries better equipped to adapt and succeed. Furthermore, research suggests that having a strong diversity and inclusion strategy can help your organisation attract top talent. So, what better motivation for companies to adopt such policies than clear ROI and employing the brightest people in the industry?

In recent years, organisations have tended to focus efforts on encouraging demographic diversity and embracing employees and teams from different races, ethnicities and genders. We have made some progress, though there’s still a lot more to be done. To fully maximise the benefits of diversity, businesses in the technology sector and beyond must now focus on a parameter of diversity that most likely doesn’t get enough attention. They need to look beyond diversity in terms of physical or visible traits and achieve cognitive diversity.

While one may think that having a large, expanded network would automatically help build diversity, In his book Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking, Matthew Syed discusses diversity as having a paradoxical property, meaning that when people are part of broader communities, they’re likely to form narrow networks of like-minded people. He further argues that despite its promise of inclusion and interconnection, the internet has created highly cohesive groups “linked not by kin or clan, but by ideological fine sorting”. Therefore, the whole concept of cognitive diversity can become problematic and difficult but not impossible to achieve, if we take conscious and meaningful steps to do so.

Let’s dive in deeper into what we mean by cognitive diversity and the type of measures companies should put in place in order to achieve it.

Embracing cognitive diversity

Achieving cognitive diversity means creating a workforce that includes a plurality of mindsets and outlooks. Building teams and organisations that are cognitively diverse starts with hiring people with a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and upbringings, as they will bring different life experiences and perspectives to the business, and therefore enrich the discussion and decision-making processes.

It is also important to embrace neurodiversity within the workforce, including employing more people with ADHD, dyslexia or autism, for example. This further encourages diversity of thought and provides a different approach to overcoming challenges and making business decisions.

Once a diverse team is in place, companies must create an environment where everyone is listened to, respected and taken into consideration. This is to ensure that everyone feels empowered to share their views and opinions even if they sit within junior teams or have opposing solutions to senior management. When all team members believe that their ideas and opinions matter, are considered and the company understands that difference strengthens the business and isn’t something that should be changed or supressed, businesses will thrive.

Finally, steps must also be taken to ensure that decisions, at any and every level, are being made based on the opinion and perspectives of everyone involved. Beyond simply listening to what everyone has to say, business strategy and plans must reflect the knowledge that everyone within the business brings to the table.

Laying the right foundation

As well as creating diverse teams and workforces within tech companies, the industry also has a responsibility to ensure there is a more diverse pipeline and talent pool being developed through education. With only 3% of female A-Level students considering a career in technology as their first choice, there is a lot of work to be done to make careers within the technology sector more appealing to young women.

Tech companies can help by doing more work at a grassroots level, encouraging both girls and boys from a variety of backgrounds to study STEM subjects at GCSE level, A-Level and as degree choices. Going into school and universities to encourage young people to enter the industry or offering them work experience, internships or graduate schemes, where students can get first-hand experience of the industry, are effective ways to bring awareness of tech-sector careers to those who may have not otherwise have considered one.

Addressing gender disparities

Encouraging girls to enter STEM sectors at an early age is one way to overcome the gender imbalance which is still an issue within the industry, as shown by the Office for National Statistics which found that women account for only 16.8% of the UK’s tech sector workforce. However, when you consider research from PwC , which found that only 5% of leadership roles in the industry are held by women, more needs to be done to address this imbalance and support women so once they are in the industry, they too can climb the career ladder.

One way to redress this balance is to put more measures in place to support women to continue to advance their careers throughout various life stages, such as offering competitive maternity packages and support when returning to the workplace. Getting back to work after maternity leave can be overwhelming, so making sure that new mothers feel supported and valued as they re-enter their career is essential. While this has been improving, particularly in the technology industry, it remains an issue with one in four women in 2019 facing a skills gap that prevented them from returning to work after having children. Furthermore, new mothers may feel pressured and torn between their careers and home life, as they are often perceived to be unable to do both to their full potential  with two thirds being the primary carers for their children as well as working full time.

Formal training and programmes to upskill women in new or updated skills that they may have missed out on whilst on maternity, would not just make them feel more comfortable in their abilities at work more quickly, but would also be beneficial for the success of the business in the long run.

Ensuring an unrestricted recruitment process

Finally, employers must make efforts to expand the recruitment process and talent pool to get access to more talent from across different areas.

To do so, HR and recruitment teams should consider more applicants from non-traditional backgrounds and experiences, which may not have been looked at in the past. For example, those without university degrees may not have the qualifications often required for technical roles, but could have transferrable skills gained through other work or life experiences, which can be easily adapted to suit a role.

Secondly, with home working becoming more prevalent due to the pandemic, the potential recruitment opportunities will also widen. For example, those with diverse skill sets and backgrounds who would have otherwise discounted certain roles due to unfeasible commutes will now be added to the talent pool. However, in order to ensure this approach works for both organisations and employees, businesses need to create an inclusive environment. Being sensitive to employee’s personal and family needs is a crucial, for example, an employee may have an elderly family member to care for or a child that needs dropping to nursery during traditional working hours. Therefore, being inclusive about individual needs will not only attract a diverse talent pool, but boost employee/employer trust.

Lastly, it is key that HR and people teams have undergone unconscious bias training so that when they interview candidates, they don’t discount someone because they unconsciously look for people like themselves, and therefore dismiss those that do not.

In conclusion, addressing diversity and inclusion within the workplace has been on the agenda for businesses for some time. While we cannot deny that some progress has been made, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done. From putting recruitment policies in place, to introducing training programmes for all employees and taking part in grassroots activities such as university career fairs, we must all continue to develop and improve to truly create a diverse industry. There is so much that is yet to be done which goes far beyond the conventional box-ticking exercise or using diversity as a source of competitive advantage. Diversity and inclusion must be seen and treated as an on-going process which always has room for improvement.

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