Three diverse women having a meeting

When it comes to inclusion, it’s not just the tech sector that has its problems, but the technology itself – writes Lotus Smits, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Company Culture.

Author Caroline Criado Perez highlighted the lack of inclusion in technology design in her book Invisible Women. From how smartphones are designed for male hands to how speech recognition ignores women’s voices.

Meanwhile, more alarming stories have shown how the technology behind self-driving cars fails to register anything other than white skin colour. While the headline-grabbing ChatGPT shows that a lot of AI is only as good as what humans put into it—which isn’t always as unprejudiced as we’d hope.

In a multi-cultural society why aren’t we getting inclusion right?

A lot of head-scratching can be done over how things like this can happen. But they can all be traced back to the issue of not having the right people around the table. If the boardrooms of these businesses are not inclusive, then how can we expect the resulting technology to be? This is just another reason why the tech sector needs to get smarter about inclusion.

A progress problem

Even after years of pressure from consumers and employees, and added calls to action from world events such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, progress is still incredibly slow-going.

According to the Nash Squared Digital Leadership Report, almost a quarter (23%) of tech teams are now female, rising to 28% of new hires. While this does seem to indicate an improving pipeline for talent into the industry, the same report shows that almost a fifth (19%) of tech teams have no representation of ethnic minorities.

Despite a challenging climate, businesses must work hard to protect DE&I and not lose momentum and make the argument for why diversity shouldn’t sit in a silo, but should be embedded within the leadership team.

How to build inclusion on your own terms

One way businesses can do this is by bringing inclusion into their business on their own terms. The tech sector prides itself on individuality and purpose. So the very idea that they can apply a cookie-cutter approach to their DE&I policy can mean it’s doomed to fail.

Below, I offer some starters for how businesses can drive inclusion in their own way—areas of opportunity for them to think outside of the box, and bring the much-lauded innovation of the industry to one of its biggest calls to action.

Go earlier in the talent pipeline

Like many other sectors, tech comes with its baggage. There are preconceptions over what success in big tech looks like but this is a nuanced industry, with far more faces and personalities behind the scenes than the ones we see onstage.

Alerting new generations of tech talent to this can be the difference between individuals seeing themselves as having a future in the industry, and them going for a sector with far more inclusivity credentials.

Tech businesses should look to demystify the sector as being inaccessible to the majority of demographics. This might include them talking directly to the next generation, whether through education, apprenticeships or training programmes, to reinforce the idea that it’s skills and perspectives that are needed, not set qualifications or backgrounds.

As convincing as the argument you make might be, nothing will have a greater impact than young tech talent seeing role models within the industry that reflect back their own experiences, skin colour, background, identity, and more—which can work to dispel anxieties about isolation. This isn’t about posturing for the next generation of talent, but ensuring the pedestals you create are available to all.

One size does not fit all

It’s a truth that bears repeating, but one size does not fit all. This means that in pursuit of inclusivity, by its very nature, you should acknowledge individuals and their challenges within your business. In order to elevate how people feel they belong, you should ensure your company has enough flexibility to allow diverse minds to flourish.

This means you should think about how you can make a hybrid working policy work. Through flexibility around how, where and when people work, you’re already making the workplace compatible with their individuality.

It can be hard to know where to start in making your workplace inclusive to your team, but this is why they should all have a stake in it—it should be their responsibility too, and this can help businesses stay in touch with current sentiment and the latest generations, without playing catch-up.

As much as world events might encourage business leaders to rethink their policy or to act, they shouldn’t just react. Inclusivity should live and breathe every day—it should be a constant evolution within your business. Remember that if your business’s policies were written as recently as 2022, they’re already out of date.

Think beyond DE&I training

While the value of diversity isn’t in doubt, there are questions over whether diversity training works. If it does for your organisation, then great. But if they go down the route of training, businesses should keep a close eye on whether it is having a positive impact. Whether teams are enthusiastic about it, or whether it’s contributing to attrition and even eroding motivation around inclusivity in general.

While DE&I training sessions can be extremely impactful, companies should not rely on these to bring about the change they want to see. They should not tick boxes, but think bigger and ask themselves why they want this for their team. Breaking the bias within companies is not about an afternoon spent on training once every six months, but nudging people on a daily basis about how bias impacts the decisions we make.

For instance, diversity, inclusion and belonging should be a part of how performance is measured. This means that it is not a bolt-on to performance—a ‘nice to have’—but something seen as integral to the development of your business and your people.

Don’t sleep on inclusion

Inclusion is a great asset for tech companies to have. Alongside the difference it can make to the lives of your employees, it can mine greater depths of creativity and performance. But this will not be the case if your business is doing it for the wrong reasons. If your policy consists of a half-hearted, hastily arranged ‘lunch and learn’ then you need to go back to the drawing board—and ensure the pens are shared among your colleagues.

Lotus Smits

About the author

Lotus is currently leading the Global Diversity, Inclusion and Culture Team at Glovo. She has always been fascinated by human behaviour and dynamics. After receiving her master’s degree in Behavioural and Organisational Psychology from the University of Amsterdam, Lotus worked as part of the people team for Vodafone in London and then at in Amsterdam.

In 2017, Lotus moved into a role building the Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing strategy & programs from scratch, and this allowed her to discover her passion for creating a healthier, fairer working environment. Lotus wants to empower everyone to feel connected, valued and to fulfil their full potential at work.