Two women of diverse backgrounds chat over a business meeting

Today sees the release of the Tech Talent Charter Diversity In Tech 2022 Report with estimates that the UK economy could be missing out on as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP  – simply because tech companies aren’t attracting enough diverse talent. 

The UK tech sector is one of the strongest in the world. Despite alarming headlines about staff cuts across US tech companies, the number of tech vacancies in the UK is still around 10% higher than pre-pandemic, with 72% of businesses reporting open vacancies for tech roles.

This means that the demand for tech skills isn’t going anywhere soon, and it remains an attractive industry for talented candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds. But if this is true, then new data from the Tech Talent Charter suggests that the tech sector is still not doing enough to persuade those diverse candidates to join and remain in the industry, risking the UK falling behind in the race for tech skills which government reports estimate could cost the UK economy as much as £63 billion a year in potential GDP.

Who’s behind the Tech Talent Charter report?

The Tech Talent Charter (TTC), a non-profit that works with UK employers to drive diversity and inclusion in tech roles, published their annual Diversity in Tech report on 1st March based on data from almost 700 companies and 210,000 tech employers. And while encouragingly, the rate of gender and ethnic diversity has shown improvement this year, for the first time the TTC asked employers to break down their diversity data by seniority of position. And the results revealed some worrying trends.

Around 28% of tech roles across the sample are now filled by women and gender minorities – a gradual but steady increase year-on-year and close to that 30% tipping point that signals the start of real representation and equity. But this drops to 22% when looking at senior roles, indicating that while more women are attracted to the industry than ever before, they are not finding the same levels of career success and development as men. The picture looks even more stark for ethnic minorities. With 25% of tech roles now being filled by ethnic minorities, according to the report, making the tech sector one of the more ethnically diverse industries in the UK, this proportion plunges by almost half to just 13% when considering senior positions.

A worrying lack of diverse talent in IT

According to Lexie Papaspyrou, COO at the TTC and author of the report, this lack of investment in developing diverse talent risks is setting the UK back in the tech race; “There are huge numbers of tech vacancies in the UK that are costing companies millions to fill. December 2022 was the peak of demand for tech talent with half a million unfilled vacancies. The problem is getting worse and failing to invest in the people who can help solve that problem is extremely short sighted.”

And the Government agrees. Paul Scully MP, Minister for London and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, commented on the discrepancy in ethnic and gender representation in senior tech positions, “This is not only unjust; it is bad for tech. It is holding back our full potential for innovation and growth. I hope that this report generates action to build on the small successes that we are seeing and continues to break down the barriers to access and promotion for underrepresented groups.”.

If the business case for diversity is so rock solid, what’s going on?

COO for Partnerships at the TTC Karen Blake says while the results are a sign of progress, they also indicate an unbalanced approach; “It’s great that we’re seeing more minorities joining the UK tech sector, and we’ve seen fantastic efforts by the companies we work with to develop recruitment policies that open up their doors to a much wider pool of candidates. What this data tells us is that those efforts are less successful once the talent is through the door.” According to Blake, companies need more focus on retention and development programmes as well as looking at their company culture overall to make sure that bias and discrimination doesn’t disproportionately affect minority groups. “Investment in skills is key,” she added, “but a holistic look at culture and representation can help to ensure that people from all backgrounds have the same opportunities to succeed.”

And in taking a holistic view, the TTC recommends that companies looking to boost and retain tech talent, consider more than gender and ethnicity. Papaspyrou added, “This year’s report shows that more companies are measuring an increasing number of diversity characteristics, including neurodiversity, with 53% of companies tracking this information – almost double compared to 2021.” Reproductive health issues such as menopause and fertility are becoming areas of increased focus for many organisations, especially in relation to gender, age and LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Companies aren’t looking outside their comfort zone for talent

But Blake adds concerns that few companies are focusing on social mobility; “The failure to adequately consider social mobility in diversity and inclusion practices is a worrying oversight, especially when accounting for the present cost-of-living struggles and the potential for technology roles to positively shape the lives of people in areas of social inequality. The tech world has the opportunity to become a beacon of social mobility; where recruiting people of diverse backgrounds and varied skill sets is championed, instead of relying on one-dimensional job histories or educational backgrounds. Although some are leading the way, there is still a lot of work to be done in this space.”

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, co-founder of the Stemettes, who has long been dedicated to inspiring and promoting the next generation of young women in the STEM sectors, also commented; “The progress made over the last 10 years in making the workplace more inclusive and fairer is very encouraging. These findings however highlight the crucial role that organisations have to play in furthering social justice. It’s no longer purely about attracting employees from diverse backgrounds, but about being actively transformational internally to ensure people stay and are promoted fairly.”

Talent being squeezed by a lack of investment

But with so many companies tightening their belts as the economy contracts, will this impact the focus they give to diversity & inclusion? “We’re hearing more and more that D&I departments are being squeezed because of the economic climate,” added Papaspyrou. “That’s coming at a time when we’ve got huge amounts of job mobility and movement that’s causing a lot of strain for companies that are trying to maintain robust tech talent pipelines.” But she has a fairly stark warning for companies who think tech skills are a place to cut corners; “This investment directly affects bottoms line. Companies that don’t invest in D&I will find ultimately that is going to be absolutely crippling to their talent strategies in years to come.” The Tech Talent Charter offers free guidance for companies wanting to focus on diversity and inclusion with their digital Open Playbook, sharing best practice from across their database of companies. “We want to make it as simple as possible for companies to address these challenges,” says Papaspyrou, “they can’t afford not to.”

The Tech Talent Charter Diversity In Tech 2022 Report is available here: https://report.techtalentcharter.co.uk/diversity-in-tech

 

 

If you are interested in Diversity in Tech, please join us at One Tech World where we will be looking at Race in Tech, Disability in Tech, how Menopause is draining the tech talent pool, as well as ageism in tech.  To find out more about our EDI sessions at One Tech World and to book your ticket, visit here.