Article by Maya Sargent, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Tecknuovo

I’m sure most women in the industry will agree that gender equality is a serious issue that’s facing technology companies throughout the UK and internationally too.

It’s honestly upsetting to think how many companies, both with decades of experience behind them and those in the start-up phase, can be described as a “boy’s club”. This will continue to be the case until significant change occurs.

For those of you who aren’t aware of just how bad things currently are, nearly three million people – the equivalent of 9% of the UK workforce – are employed in the UK tech industry. Just a quarter of that figure is made up of women. Wider data shows this isn’t going to improve without serious action – only 5% of tech leaders are women, 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology and just 3% of women say a career in tech is a first choice.

It almost goes without saying that this is a major issue that must be addressed, and now. So what can organisations do to close the gender gap?

Recognising unconscious bias

Before I entered the industry, I spent a decade working in the recruitment sector with a focus on growing IT teams, first in agencies and then in-house. Although I have some great memories from those days, it would be disingenuous of me to say there weren’t discussions and decisions I witnessed which lit a fire under me to push for diversity throughout the tech sector.

These situations I found myself witnessing are the reason why so many talented women believe there’s a locked door keeping them from even considering entering the tech industry – unconscious bias. By no means is it only present in tech businesses though, it can be found in almost every industry you can think of. Of course, there are businesses that are truly pushing for equality but for many, if you dig beneath the surface you often find a C-suite largely made up of men.

I’ve witnessed firsthand how affinity bias can drive hiring decisions, with CEOs more likely to interview people that went to the same university as them, or grew up in the same area, over someone from a more diverse background. Without action, this will continue, and it’s not only toxic but actively harms the productivity of both the companies at fault and the wider economy.

Time to close the gap, for good!

Some of you will be reading this and find yourself worried that you might be guilty of unconscious bias. Others will work in a truly diverse team and instead are interested in best practice to ensure it stays that way. Wherever you are on the journey, there’s a simple strategy worth introducing. Anonymising CVs at the start of the recruitment process ensures the most qualified people for the role are interviewed, regardless of gender, race or sexuality.

It then becomes increasingly difficult for those biases to creep in without senior professionals admitting to themselves that they’re casting people aside for reasons other than professional acumen. This will prove most beneficial at lower levels but to ensure diversity in more senior positions, it’s key to have benchmarking in place to hit goals such as 50% male / female leadership. Publishing such goals will also keep you honest, rather than them being solely internal and therefore something that can be pushed to the wayside if the gap widens.

Anonymising CVs isn’t a diversity silver bullet though and there’s a long road to travel before UK businesses are where they should be. You only need to hear that male-owned businesses get seven times more funding than those owned by women to appreciate how far we still need to go.

The final piece of the puzzle is often getting board members on side who may ask why a business model that has proven successful over time should change now. An organisation that’s diverse in every sense of the word, from entry level right up to the C-suite, will prove more successful over time.

Diversity of character equates to diversity of thought and therefore increased creativity. A diverse company is setting itself up to innovate in a way that a male, pale and stale one simply isn’t.

With each day that passes, I’m increasingly hopeful that we’re getting closer to people realising exactly that, which in turn will bring the change that’s long overdue.

About the author

Maya SargentMaya is the Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at challenger technology consultancy Tecknuovo, a role which has seen her partner with the HR and leadership teams to create a D&I roadmap for the company and drive processes, practices and key checkpoints to measure success and hold leaders accountable for progress.

She is so passionate about making a positive impact on the industry and striving for true equality that Maya has become a mentor for Black Valley, an immersive mentorship programme improving access to the tech industries within the black community.