Tech Talent CharterThe lack of diversity in the technology industry is an issue that many wish to tackle.

Unfortunately, women still hold less that 20 percent of technical roles in the UK and only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education are female.

In 2016, Debbie Forster noticed lots of companies were trying to improve diversity within their organisation, but were struggling to make any progress. As a consequence, in 2017, Forster founded the Tech Talent Charter (TTC). The TTC, which is voluntary and free to join, is a not-for-profit which aims to bring together organisations that have an interest in making the technology sector inclusive and diverse.

“All you’ve got to do is guarantee that you’re doing something internally, that you’re willing to collaborate, to share best practice, and to give me your data,” Forster explains.

This means that being part of the Tech Talent Charter is a privilege, and no matter how big and well-known your company is, you must adhere to the rules to ensure you remain part of the programme.

Forster explains “Both years that we had our report, I have cut members. If they don’t give me data, they get removed. I removed 15 percent of my members this year and about 20 percent last year, because what we found is, when companies weren’t sharing their data with us, it was because they didn’t have the ingredients that they said they did. They didn’t get senior buy-in and they were really not comfortable in collaborating or sharing.”

Any company that is expelled from the programme can rejoin after a year, while knowing that Forster will be having some difficult discussions with them upon their return.

The TTC has recently release its diversity in tech benchmarking report which gives statistics from over 300 companies that are members of the organisation.

Although there isn’t complete 50/50 gender parity, Forster is happy with the progress that the results show. Across TTC’s signatories, women hold 24% of tech roles, compared to the current UK average of 16%.

One of the key parts of being involved in the Tech Talent Charter is adopting an inclusive recruitment process. This includes making sure job adverts are gender neutral and that all interview panels are gender diverse. This is in the hopes that, wherever possible, women are included within the whole interview process.

“What’s fantastic is to see that what we’ve been promoting is starting to bear fruit,” she says. “This is a great piece of incentive to bring back to people.

“It also shows that our companies are already indicating that they plan to develop a strategy. More [organisations] are planning to have those targets for shortlists, supporting returners and retraining people, which I think is going to be a game changer.”

Collaboration

In September 2019, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced its third round of funding for the Tech Talent Charter, generously contributing more than £350,000 in support of the initiative.

For Forster, collaboration is at the heart of the charter. In 2016, she was frustrated that so many companies were trying to improve inclusion and diversity in the tech industry without even reaching out to others who were trying to do the same, to find out how they were going about it.

“We bring together employers, recruiters, consultants and people who are working with under-represented groups to help them collaborate,” she explains. “We think most of the pieces of the puzzle are out there but it’s about bringing them together.”

The Future

In January this year, TTC held their third annual event, where people from across the tech sector come together to find out what members and supports of the Charter had achieved in the past year. During the event, Forster also shared her vision for the future and what goals she hopes the Tech Talent Charter will achieve.

In regards to long term targets, Forster has spoken of one very specific goal she hopes the 2020 Tech Talent Charter will achieve. She wants to not only focus on the lack of gender diversity, but also take a closer look at how (un)successfully organisations are hiring ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, disabled, neurodiverse and socially diverse employees. Forster has also noted that, when it comes to gender, she wants signatories to look beyond binary definitions. As Forster noted at the event, if we only bring in more white, middle class women, that’s not diversity.

She said at the January event: “I want our members to know they can find the tools, the information, the strategies, the organisations, in order to genuinely move the dial on all aspects of inclusion and diversity. I want our members to be able to find posts in our open playbook and our mapping. I want to see those ingredients inspire more returning and retraining programmes, more targeting in terms of diverse shortlists and then really continuing to pull ahead of the pack when it comes to tech.”

The Tech Talent Charter has an exciting year ahead. For its signatories, the next 12 months are about continuing to build an inclusive working environment for diverse employees, as well as helping TTC to welcome in more organisations with the same vested interest.

“The time to act on it, to focus on the practical and move the dial is now,” as Forster concluded.

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