How can we support diverse talent into the tech sector?

Front view of diverse business people looking at camera while working together at conference room in a modern office

By Hannah Birch, Managing Director, Europe at Ensono

The UK is facing an ongoing shortage of skilled tech talent. Expanding educational opportunities in tech, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and underrepresented groups, is one crucial way to tackle this crisis.

Supporting such talent into tech will not only help to close the skills gap, but it will also bring fresh perspectives and diversity of thought to the sector, helping to drive innovation and creativity.

The education sector and the government have a role to play here, but businesses in the tech industry can also make a real difference. It is the responsibility of tech companies to support the development of tech talent through various means. This includes participation in schemes and programmes that help provide people with the necessary skills and experience to pursue a career in tech, such as the government’s Kickstart Scheme, which Ensono joined earlier in 2021.

It starts with education

While the current skills shortage cannot be attributed to just one cause, a lack of interest in tech careers early on in individuals’ education is creating problems further down the talent pipeline. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of school learners taking IT-related subjects at GCSE dropped by 40%, according to research conducted by The Learning and Work Institute.

The nature of the UK’s education system means students who don’t commit to a career in tech from a relatively young age often face barriers if they choose to enter the sector later on. This is compounded by the attitude of organisations within the sector, many of which remain rigid in their hiring processes, expecting prospective employees to have followed a specific career path.

This system of education and hiring penalises those from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds. In particular, individuals from lower socio-economic communities, where the chances of achieving the required higher-level qualifications can be diminished, lose out on opportunities to pursue a tech career.

Creating alternative career pathways

Educational reform is needed to provide a greater variety of routes into a tech career. The Chancellor made some promising announcements to this effect in the recent Autumn Budget, laying out planned funding for T-Levels and apprenticeships. These alternatives to traditional educational pathways will be an important part of the solution to the tech skills shortage.

As well as reform in education, more early-career support is crucial. This is where the private sector can make a real difference. Companies must ensure they take advantage of the government schemes available that enable businesses to support people into new tech roles.

The government’s Kickstart Scheme, as one example, is aimed at 16-to-24 year olds who rely on Universal Credit. Kickstart provides funding for businesses to train participants over a six-month period. Those who partake in the scheme are more likely to find employment, having gained relevant experience and training.

Apprenticeships are another avenue for the young work force to get into tech. For its apprenticeship scheme, Ensono partnered with Leeds Trinity University, taking on a group of students who work for Ensono four days a week while completing their studies. The group will finish the programme with a full degree and industry experience.

Implementing a culture change

Participating in training schemes is important, but businesses need to go further to attract and retain diverse talent. Employers need to accept alternative qualifications and move away from traditional tech hiring practices. They also need to demonstrate their commitment to an inclusive culture, in which all individuals feel valued and supported.

Businesses can also play a part in developing role models that attract young people to careers in tech. For the third year in a row, Ensono is participating in Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA), which aims to attract young people towards STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Arts Maths) careers. Other initiatives such as Future Frontiers allow employees to become mentors to Sixth Form students, providing them with advice about career choices. Through such programmes, businesses directly inspire young people from all backgrounds and encourage them to pursue a career in tech.

Looking ahead

Businesses have a responsibility to act to help shrink the tech skills gap. Addressing the problem involves significant challenges, but it also presents an opportunity for the sector. The provision of more training opportunities and the re-assessment of hiring practices are all positive actions that serve to broaden the diversity of recruits. This will only enrich the tech workforce, bringing fresh perspectives and challenges to the status quo – both vital ingredients for progress and innovation.

About the author

Hannah BirchWith over two decades experience in the IT industry, Hannah brings a wealth of experience in leading technology and transformation activities to Ensono. Before joining Ensono, Hannah spent over a decade at Accenture as Managing Director in Technology. At Accenture, her role included responsibilities for heading up its Insurance Practice for Technology and on the Technology Leadership Team for UK & Ireland. Throughout her career she has particularly built up extensive experience working with multinationals across the Insurance and Energy Sector. Prior to her roles at Accenture, Hannah held Leadership positions at both Computacenter and Fujitsu Services UK.

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Speak Up 2020: Redesigning Tech Conferences With Women in Mind | Ensono

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How Companies Can Take a Stand for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to Help Fight Unconscious Bias and Discrimination at Tech Conferences

Ensono's second annual “Speak Up” research report, “Speak Up 2020: Redesigning Tech Conferences with Women in Mind,” once again examines the representation of women at tech conferences and the systemic challenges that keep women from coming back. As in the 2019 report, they asked women about their tech conference experiences and audited keynote lineups to determine the ratio of male to female speakers.

However, this year, Ensono took the report a step further. They examined how unconscious bias in conference design affects women’s experiences, for example A/V equipment that is more difficult to secure to women’s apparel. They also looked at diversity beyond gender, asking women of color about their specific conference experiences, and evaluating disparities in keynote lineups between all women and women of color.

When this research was conducted in late 2019, Ensono couldn’t have predicted the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but the importance and relevance of these issues still exists. Even in an era of virtual events, it’s important for companies to do their part as allies by pushing tech conferences toward real change. This report offers four actionable strategies for companies to drive diversity and inclusion efforts through their presence and sponsorships at conferences, promoting more opportunities for women, and creating a more equitable industry environment.


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Virtual events could be a step in achieving greater inclusivity for women in tech

watching a virtual conference on a laptop, zoom call, video call, virtual events

Virtual events could be a step in achieving greater inclusivity for women in tech if biased features maintained by in-person conferences are eliminated, according to new data.

Ensono, a leading hybrid IT services provider, today released the findings of its second annual research report, “Speak Up: Redesigning Tech Conferences With Women in Mind.

As digital events have become the new normal due to the impact of COVID-19, the report signals how virtual conferences can provide a stepping stone for women to achieve gender parity in the tech industry if biased conference amenities are eliminated. For women of colour, this disparity is even greater, and companies are responsible for diversity and inclusion efforts that challenge routine procedure.

The report found that 71 per cent of women who have given a keynote said conferences are not designed with women in mind. The report also found that on average, women of colour only make up eight per cent of keynote speakers at tech conferences over the last three years. 61 per cent of the women surveyed said their company is more likely to send a man to a tech conference than a woman.

Ensono surveyed 500 women across the US and UK who attended a tech conference in 2019 to uncover their experiences surrounding discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation at industry events. The report also includes an audit of the same 18 major technology conferences as last year’s report to identify change in the representation of female keynote speakers at tech conferences.

Speaking about the report, Meredith Graham, Senior Vice President of Culture and People Experience at Ensono, said, "This year’s report comes at a tipping point for the tech industry, and the spirit of change has never been stronger.”

“While we never could have predicted how 2020 would unfold, now is the time to implement change and create cultures that champion diversity and inclusion, not only in tech but across industries.”

"One of the organisers thought I was there to refill coffee — I was actually giving a keynote," said an Ensono survey respondent.

The report also outlines data surrounding the lack of accommodations at tech events for women, like rooms for nursing mothers, as well as biased design features, like podiums or projectors sized for much taller men. It also provides actionable takeaways for companies to better equip their female associates to attend both in-person and virtual events, such as investing in internal resources that vet conferences and transmit attendee feedback.

“Although the overhaul of in-person conferences has increased the opportunity for women to gain representation at tech conferences and have better experiences, it doesn’t stop there,” said Lin Classon, vice president of product management at Ensono. “The industry still has a long way to go, but it’s research like this that provides companies with data and tools to initiate change.”

WeAreTheCity covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in business, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.

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Proportion of women studying Computing rises to 13.3 per cent

women in computing, teacher, STEM

The proportion of women studying Computing A-Levels has risen to 13.3 per cent, according the new research.

The study, conducted by Ensono, found that although the number of women taking Computing has doubled since 2013, it remains unequal. In 2019, 9,649 males took Computing A-Levels, while only 1,475 females did.

The research also found that there has been a five-year increase in students taking STEM subjects. STEM subjects include Biology, Chemistry, Computing, Further Maths, Maths and Physics.

Further to this, there has been a five-year decrease in arts subjects of 20 per cent. Art subjects include English, Drama, Art & Design, Media/Film/TV studies and Religious Studies.

Speaking about the research, Oliver Presland, Vice President of Global Product Management at Ensono said, "More students than ever are achieving STEM A-Levels, with a nine per cent uptick in these subjects over five years."

"Computing has been no exception and it’s especially encouraging to see the proportion of women taking the subject has doubled since 2013."

"However, it’s worth pointing out that in Computing, the gender balance is still highly skewed towards men, with 9,649 and 1,475 entries for males and females respectively."

"More will still need to be done in this regard to encourage women into the space."

"With the UK in the midst of a digital skills gap, increased uptake of Computing A-level represents positive news for the industry."

"Lack of appropriate skills currently presents a major hurdle to business growth and innovation, and has hindered the UK’s competitiveness."

"As the Fourth Industrial Revolution ushers in far-reaching economic and societal changes, the world of work is evolving with new roles demanding new, digital capabilities."

"Youngsters need to be able to flourish in this dramatically different environment, and students today seem to be acknowledging those changes in the subjects they’re choosing.”

Lisa Agona featured

Inspirational Woman: Lisa Agona | CMO, Ensono

Lisa AgonaLisa Agona is CMO of the global IT service provider, Ensono.

Under her leadership, Ensono has become the number one company in customer satisfaction for IT outsourcing, and has doubled its revenue to an impressive £420 million in under three years.

Lisa has been in the marketing industry for thirty years, with previous roles in Accenture and LexisNexis. During her previous position as CMO for LexisNexis, Lisa helped grow a nascent US-based $500 million identity risk management business to $1.5 billion, spanning multiple industries and countries.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve been the global CMO of Ensono, the private equity backed hybrid IT services company, for over three years. What I particularly enjoy about my job is having the opportunity to work with my colleagues around the world to build Ensono, a new brand,  into a recognized global transformation company.

I studied at West Virginia University right after high school, earning an Economics degree, which initially sparked my love of learning. I later returned to university, attending Columbia Business School and achieving an MBA in Management. This drive to learn has really helped me embrace new opportunities, most notably taking on my first global CMO role at LexisNexis where we drove 7 consecutive years of above-retail growth to $1.5 billion.

I’ve spent the majority of my personal and working life in New York City, and have moved to Atlanta and now Chicago for new roles. Armed with two suits, little cash and the dream of launching my career in marketing, I bought a one-way ticket to New York City and haven’t looked back since!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never plotted out my desired career bath – who does nowadays? But I knew which direction I wanted to be moving in. Typically, I’m a keen planner but there have been situations and opportunities in my career that I could never have foreseen, let alone plan for.

I’m driven by a desire to make a difference to my own life and to the lives of others, to be financially independent, and to experience new places and discover new cultures. I knew I didn’t want to stay in my hometown but, at first, I wasn’t sure exactly where these motivations and beliefs would take me.

I’ve worked for a lot of large global companies, and a few years ago I felt it was time to take my career in a different direction and diversify. When Ensono reached out to me about a CMO position, I was drawn to the prospect of helping reinvent a company and have enjoyed the challenge of building up the brand, our market, and creating a new team.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

As with any career, I’ve faced challenges along the way. I come from a working-class family in a former steel town, so leaving home to go to college was a massive step for me. After that, I faced the typical financial challenges all students face, and while I knew that I wanted to advance my career and make a difference, I didn’t know what that looked like straight away.

I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a woman in business and as someone entering the tech field for the first time is having the confidence to make myself heard. Knowledge is power, and key to confidence, so I went back into education after my economics degree to pursue business school. There, I met people from across the world, built up my base business knowledge and really worked on my confidence.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

One of my biggest career achievements to date has been securing my first CMO position at LexisNexis. I had been working with the legal research and risk analytics firm for a couple of years before the promotion, and proved myself during a large scale acquisition of a big public company. While this position initially felt daunting, I surprised myself with what I was able to achieve and learned a great deal from the experience.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think that having a serious internal drive and persevering, even when things get tough, has helped me get where I am now. A big driver for me is the belief that it is important for everyone, especially women, to establish their own financial independence, and I’ve always taken pride in my career and my ability to provide for myself. Everyone should find what it is that drives them, and harness that.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

A common misconception that people have about careers in the technology sector is that high-level tech skills are valued above all else. I’ve found that many people, myself included, really value the softer skills involved with a career in technology. The industry has its own language and expertise, and being able to communicate these effectively across all audiences – not just to the tech aficionados – is a real talent. I would urge anyone looking to launch or accelerate a career in this sector to invest in their communication skills. While technical skills are important, it’s emotional intelligence and the ability to build trust that’s going to get people noticed.

For women entering the sector, I think it’s especially important for them to get involved with community organisations – both inside and outside of work. These could be anything from women in tech communities, to profession-led communities, to hobby-related communities. It’s crucial for women, who are vastly underrepresented in the tech sector, to identify their supporters and advocates, and build these up over time. Communities are a great way to network with likeminded people and for women to support other women in their careers.

Do you believe there are still barriers to success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are still barriers for women working in tech to overcome. One of the hardest to combat is unconscious gender bias. This gender bias stems from our continued buy-in of traditional gender roles, which typically allocate computing skills and interest in technology as masculine traits.

While nobody is deliberately circulating this bias, its effects can be felt from the C-Suite all the way to the graduate level. In order to combat these biases, building awareness of them is key. At Ensono, we have just started a company-wide ‘Women’s Initiative’ scheme, which has already seen our senior executive teams trained on unconscious bias and its insidious effects. I’m also a big fan of women in tech conferences that give women the space to share stories and help change the narrative around gender in tech.

What do you think companies can do to support or progress the careers of women working in technology?

Until unconscious bias is completely eradicated, companies will continue to need to implement formal programs that support women’s progression in the tech industry. While large leaps towards equality have been made, a lot more needs to be done to truly diversify the face of tech. Ensuring that at least one qualified woman is on the down select slate for each open position is a start.

One of our female spokespeople, Lin Classon, attended a tech conference last year only to find herself in a shocking minority. After raising this with us, we launched an independent research project into the diversity of tech events, discovering that 70% of women were the only female speaker present. Not only did this motivate us to continue our internal women’s initiative schemes, but we also raised awareness of the problem in the wider press.

It’s vital that organisations don’t just wait for change, but make a stand and evoke change internally, whether that’s investing in career programs for women, encouraging women to take part in community organisations or raising awareness of the ongoing gender bias issue.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

If I could wave a magic wand, I would banish gender roles and unconscious bias completely. Women are often given negative attributes – bossy, hysterical, overbearing – while men in the same position are described as confident, firm, assertive. In order to level the playing field, we need to stop making assumptions based on gender and stop allocating characteristics to women that are viewed as inferior.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I am particularly inspired by the researcher Brené Brown, whose Ted Talks and books teach us all – men and women – to explore our ability to be vulnerable, and to overcome our fears. Other resources that I have found empowering include Thrive Global for lifestyle and professional enlightenment, and for professional resources that can be used to advance your own workplace and communities.

Speak Up: Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences

Speak Up report

New research conducted by Ensono, reveals the stigma that women face at technology conferences. 

The report, “Speak Up: Bringing More Women’s Voices to Tech Conferences”, which interviewed 500 women in tech in the US and UK, uncovers women’s experiences and attitudes toward the representation of women in tech. It found, for example, that:

  • One in four women have experienced sexual harassment at a tech conference
  • Seventy per cent of women who’ve sat on a panel at a technology conference have been the only woman on the panel

The study also included an audit of 18 major tech industry conferences in the US and UK to find the number of keynotes that have been given by women over the past three years.


Inspirational Woman: Michelle Roberts | Director of Partners, Ensono


Michelle Roberts colour headshot

Michelle is the Director of Partners at Ensono, where she is responsible for the Hyperscale Cloud partner relationships, as well as the management of its market strategy globally.

She has a wealth of expertise in sales and relationship management, having previously worked for Attenda and Rackspace.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the Director of Partners at Ensono, a leading global provider of managed hybrid IT. I am responsible for the development of Ensono’s Hyperscale Cloud partner relationships, as well as the management of our market strategy globally.

Outside of work, I have three children, and I’m an Olympic weightlifter!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In short, no – it’s nothing like I imagined. I think there’s a select few who have their career mapped out from an early age – most of us follow a number of twists and turns to get there.  I actually wanted to be a graphic designer or an architect, but my career now couldn’t be more different. However, I really feel that the “artistic element” of my personality has helped me a lot!

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Being a female in a technical role can sometimes be a bit lonely. As I’ve moved up and across into more technical roles, my network of fellow-female colleagues has diminished, and it’s been a while since I’ve worked in a team with women. Quite often I’m the only woman in the room and it can be daunting. However, most of the time there are bigger challenges to deal with, so it’s not something I expend much energy on.

The transition from individual contributor to a management role has been another notable challenge. I’m a proactive do-er and letting go of tasks can be quite difficult. Delegating them out isn’t second nature, particularly if I don’t see things moving forward.

But really, I think that my greatest challenge has been combining my career with motherhood. Juggling three children with a full-time job is tough and I’m not sure many people understand the constant pull in every direction and what it takes to give 100% to your job and your family. It takes resilience, drive, and lots of late nights to perform well. There’s always this underlying guilt that you haven’t given enough to one or the other – even though you have – so you work twice as hard. That’s why I think that working parents are an untapped resource, which some organisations are just not attuned to.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

While the progress over the last few years for women in the workplace has been beneficial, some of that progress has actually been detrimental. Salary disparity and the difficulties of promotion for women are now being recognised – and I applaud that – but the presence of women in the workplace has now become slightly contrived. For instance, are women being invited to those senior meetings for their contribution, or the impact they will make? Or is it because they are the token woman in the room, or because it will make the company look more diverse?

I want things to be normalised to the point where #WomeninTech is no longer a debated topic, and frankly, I’m bored of hearing it myself. Let’s accept that there have been problems in the past and move on. Simply, businesses need to have a plan for how to address the diversity issues and how to counteract cognitive biases. Yes, there are still pockets of inequality in wider society, but that takes time to eradicate.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

When I was younger, I didn’t realise the value in mentoring – in someone analysing your behaviour and your methods. But, I’ve realised more recently in my life just how critical mentoring is to the success of your career. Having someone there who wants to help you – someone who is willing to talk critically and honestly – is enormously beneficial. Mentors can equip you with tools and tactics to deal with situations differently or help you get the most out of your work relationships by viewing them from a different angle.

I also believe life skills and experience can be far more significant than your education in your career, and I’d like to see more organisations delivering mentoring programs in the workplace and schools to build on the exposure people get outside of academic training.

How would you encourage more women and girls into a career in STEM?

It is crucial to start from the ground up, by nurturing talent. School-age is where we can start to make the greatest impact on young women’s choices. Girls are sometimes not aware of technology career choices and can fall into the belief that science and technology are male domains. However, that perception can be changed quite easily.

Identifying skills that young girls have and helping them to understand how to apply them to different environments is one way forward. Giving children different experiences and letting them choose those that they’re most interested in, or comfortable with, is another.

Educators should champion the status of women in STEM professions to give real-life role models for the next generation. Schools could invite successful women in technology to speak in front of children, and teachers could celebrate the achievements of female pioneers and female leaders in every day lessons.

Social media is also worth considering. For teenagers in particular, it’s something that can be used to foster interest in different careers and to normalise STEM careers for women. Youngsters are spending more than 70% of their time online, so we need to get the popular role models vlogging! The more successful women we have talking publicly about their journey – whether in real life or online – the more confidence young girls will have to enter the field.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Every day is an achievement. I’m becoming everything that I wanted to be. I’m not sure I knew what went on behind the scenes for a successful businesswoman, but I guess I am one. I’m a Director at a successful company that’s going places and I have achieved a lot in my time. As Ensono continues to grow, hopefully I will follow, and help lead its trajectory.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

At some point, I would like to give something back on a personal level, using everything I have learnt. I have been very fortunate in my career, but I have also worked very hard for it, which is something I can share. I want to offer my knowledge and advice to women with personal challenges and women who are yet to start their professional careers. Women have something major to offer the workplace.