diverse business meeting

Diversifying the tech industry can sometimes feel like a game of snake; it’s slow, clunky, and you often run into obstacles. But change is required – for both the benefit of the industry and for society as a whole.

Research reported in IT PRO found that just 1 in every 6 IT professionals are female. This figure is even lower for Black women, who are significantly underrepresented in the tech and IT industry, with recent research by the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and Coding Black Females finding that Black women make up only 0.7% of IT professionals in the UK – despite being 1.8% of the workforce.

Tim Cook, Apple’s Chief Executive, recently told the BBC that there was no good reason for the lack of women in tech and that the industry needs more diverse voices around the decision-making table. Why, then, are we still finding ourselves lacking diverse representation at the top tier?

Having Black female leaders to look up to as role models and inspire the next generation would, in my view, make a drastic difference to the industry’s culture and encourage more Black talent to join the tech world. There’s the saying that ‘you have to see it to be it’, and Black women can often find themselves in the minority at work with little to no representation in senior positions. This matters for a variety of reasons. It could create a sense that the employee in the earliest stages of their career doesn’t belong in the industry, or that their progression will be limited. It can also reaffirm a sense of imposter syndrome, which is shown to hit Black women hardest as highlighted in this BBC article.

Representation matters. A PwC report found that 78% of students surveyed couldn’t name a famous woman working in tech. For young people considering which career path to take, having role models in the industry could be the difference between pursuing a line of study and avoiding it.

Speaking to someone who has progressed within your chosen industry – especially if you share similar backgrounds – is hugely beneficial. Likewise, being mentored by someone senior who understands your life experiences and can provide guidance at the start of their career journey encourages young talent to aim high, knowing that their career goals are achievable. Sponsorship is also hugely beneficial for Black women, as it ensures they are being championed in conversations around career progression and development opportunities with decision-makers in the workplace.

More Black female leaders are also needed for the benefit of the technology itself. Gender bias is already a problem in the design of a variety of products, as evidenced by this other BBC article, and continuing to lack diverse voices could create a greater divide between different stakeholder groups and miss an opportunity to provide for those, regardless of ethnicity, who may  really benefit from technology’s progress.

There is no doubt that inclusivity improves innovation – and the more diverse the industry is, the more creative it becomes. Without diversity in our organisations, we risk falling into patterns of group-think. Whereas, teams who have a range of backgrounds have greater awareness of different cultural nuances which will shape their behaviours and actions. Having more diversity within the industry ensures that different opinions and life experiences are being reflected and represented in the products, instead of them being a homogenous replication of one lived experience.

Technology has become a major part of our lives, but it needs a range of voices and experiences to build something for the benefit of us all. If we do not see more progress towards diverse and inclusive organisations, the industry will be unable to serve those who it is meant to and that is ALL of humanity without exception.

About the author

Yetunde HofmannYetunde Hofmann is a board level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity adviser, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of SOLARIS – a pioneering new leadership development programme for Black women. Find out more at http://www.solarisleadership.com/