Woman in tech

By Natalie Desty

With the UK tech skills gap widening and Microsoft estimating that, globally, there will be 149 million new jobs in software, data, AI, machine learning and cyber by 2025 there is no better time to sign up to the Tech Talent Charter.

Co-CEO of the Charter, Debbie Forster, MBE, says that “the importance of greater diversity and inclusion in tech is, thankfully, no longer up for debate. Sectors and organisations now need to work together to shift the dial – and this will happen faster if we pool our successes, failures, and key learnings to bring about real structural change.”

And we could not agree more.

The importance of unlocking the potential of an inclusive and diverse tech sector cannot be underestimated.

We are delighted to be joining over 700 other organisations and lending our voice and expertise to driving diversity and inclusion within tech and supporting talented and dedicated returners back into the tech industry. We love that the Tech Talent Charter’s action-led engagement is based on measurable insights and industry commitment. Collaboration is really important to STEM Returners and the Tech Talent Charter is something that we believe in.

For nearly six years now, we have been working with leading STEM organisations to help people on a career break return to work. Every day, we see the challenges they face, whether it’s recruitment bias, lack of feedback or low self-confidence. This is exacerbated in tech, where the industry develops very quickly, leaving even those returners with short breaks feeling out of date.

There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills. But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, can refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would benefit their employers.

Change is happening but slowly. We are proud to be making a difference and working with some leading tech organisations such as the Intellectual Property Office, Cubic and fellow signatory, BAE Systems, to implement Returner Programmes. We have now successfully placed more than 450 professionals on programmes across the STEM industry and the feedback we receive is always very positive.

For example, one of our tech returners on the Cubic programme told us she had almost lost hope after being rejected many times for roles, but the programme gave her a new opportunity and a boost of confidence.

To hear how our programmes are making a positive difference in people’s lives is incredibly rewarding. But it’s not just from the returner side, many managers tell us how the programmes help them find the right talent for their roles and how it can improve the way they recruit team members outside of the programme, no longer seeing a career break as a negative.

We believe we all need to do more to improve inclusion and diversity across the sector and the Tech Talent Charter will undoubtedly help us do this, whether it is with the organisations we work with or as a company ourselves.

Created in 2015 to address the UK’s tech talent shortage and diversity problem through collective action, the TTC’s goal is for the UK tech ecosystem to be a diverse and inclusive community where people from all backgrounds are welcomed and valued for their contributions.

Debbie Forster has also said, that “no group can do it alone,” which is correct. We look forward to working with the other organisations who have signed up to the Charter. Only by working together, will we make a positive difference for those returning to the tech industry after a career break and to improve representation across the sector.

About the author

Natalie DestyNatalie Desty is the Founder and Director of STEM Returners, an award-winning solution to an industry-wide problem. After building a progressive career in recruitment, where she was Director of Maritime Engineering at a large recruitment company, Natalie was struck by the apparent lack of progress in diversity and inclusion within STEM industries. She was particularly concerned by the insurmountable barriers that people who have had a career break face when wanting to return to STEM roles

Natalie created a small pilot returners programme for a group of employers, which was a resounding success. Natalie has developed this programme into STEM Returners, which has supported hundreds of people to restart their careers in internationally renowned organisations such as BAE Systems, SSE and Leonardo UK. Returners take part in 12-week paid placements, enabling STEM leaders to access the best available talent, and in doing so, improve diversity and inclusion within their organisation. Ninety-six per cent of returners secure a permanent position within the host organisation following the placement.

Natalie has a BA Honours degree in International Relations and Politics from the University of Portsmouth and was given the Eily Keary Award by the Royal Institute of Naval Architects for increasing equality, diversity and inclusion in the maritime industry. STEM Returners was awarded the Maritime UK Diversity Award in 2020 and the Diversity in Engineering Award by Enginuity in March 2021.

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