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Why the software sphere is crying out for diversity

diversity, boys club

Article provided by Daniela Aramu, Head of User Experience, Thomsons Online Benefits

Just 16.8 per cent of people working in the UK tech sector are women.

Addressing this imbalance should be a priority for businesses. And not just to reach gender parity – which is a worthy goal in and of itself – but because it’s a commercial imperative, particularly when it comes to software development.

Does it matter who develops tech?

End users’ own experiences will shape how they engage with software and technology. For this reason, all good technologists should place audience demands and preferences at the centre of their designs.

If customers are struggling to use a product or feel that its functionality isn’t up to scratch, they’ll stop using it and go elsewhere. And there’s so much choice available to consumers now that if they don’t like one option, there’ll be half a dozen more to try, with new products launching all the time.

So, unless software is really tailored to their needs, people will likely move on.

Having people on board who can relate to different users and understand how they think and operate will help these considerations to be weaved into the earliest stage of the development process.

For designers, empathy is second nature. The role is all about understanding user needs and working with developers to transform that idea into a real product with real code. For developers, empathy is not such a prerequisite, but it is an incredible advantage, as they will be more willing to change their code structure to reflect user mental models.

When considering the above, it becomes apparent why there’s such a dire need for greater gender diversity in tech – and particularly on the development side. Developers do not have that much exposure to the needs of users, nor are they really taught to empathise. Increasing gender diversity in teams is one of the simplest ways to ensure the needs of women are considered in the development process.

But is it just women?

Of course, gender diversity is not the only thing that makes software development stronger. Different backgrounds, experiences and specialities all contribute to a richer development process and better end-product.

For example, my background lies in psychology; something which I regularly apply to developing the user experience of Thomsons’ software. In fact, studying people’s behaviour and perception turned out to be the perfect fit for my job in tech.  And my team is full of people with a range of backgrounds – everything from interior designers to border control. Each one can bring new perspectives to the design process.

We’re all united by logical thinking and a real curiosity about human behaviour, but crucially, our experiences and backgrounds mean we approach problems in very different ways.

Building cohesion in a diverse team

Having a diverse team is fantastic for getting the job done – we have people from all over the world working together. But it’s really important to be conscious of people’s backgrounds when communicating with them. For example, the world of software often comes with its own, complex language and shorthand. When people are new to the field, or new to tech in its entirety, you must take the time to give proper explanations and technical descriptions.

Bringing people on board can therefore be a fairly time-intensive task, but it’s a small price to pay for the diverse ideas and perspectives you get in return.

Bringing the best on board

For those in charge of hiring new tech talent I would urge them to broaden their candidate criteria. Of course, they need to have the skills to get the job done. But beyond that, should what university you attended, or if you even attended one at all, be a deciding factor in shortlisting prospective new recruits? Should your background or prior work experience?

I would say, no. In fact, it’s not something I particularly consider when recruiting for my team. I’m more interested in how people problem-solve and what their drivers are in building a product. This naturally leads to a more diverse workforce, where women are better represented, and teams are much more representative of the people that will use their products.