Diversity in tech: Creating a winning workforce

Over the years, the industry we work in has often been criticised for its lack of diversity. Traditionally, tech and IT was seen as a boys’ club. But we have seen a shift over the past decade, where more women are taking up managerial and exec roles, companies are understanding the benefits of hiring people with more diverse backgrounds and experiences, and there has been a big focus on getting more girls into STEM subjects at school.

Many businesses in the channel are discovering the benefits of a truly diverse workforce, and here, we ask three tech companies about their diversity initiatives and what they think needs to be done in the industry to keep us all moving in the right direction.

“Terra was a 100% male workforce two years ago and now boasts 21% female workforce,” Alicia Shepherd, Terra’s sales director, tells PCR. “We didn’t set out with a goal to increase the female quota but set out looking for the best candidates and how they would fit into the culture and the workplace we were trying to build, this has not changed.

“It’s not just in the workplace where roles are changing with women moving into senior and technical roles where historically this was a man’s world, it is also in the home,” she explains.

“With all our hires we appreciate that in the same way the main child carer can be either male or female and therefore as a business we have been careful in supporting all our employees and offering flexibility allowing them to be parents and do their role at Terra – no one should have to choose between work or their children.”

Shepherd says that Terra is “open and honest” in all its interviews with candidates, highlighting how it is a flexible company that recognises that a happy home life leads to happy work life and vice versa.

“With stress in the workplace, it’s hugely important to myself as company director to ensure all our employees are supported and know we have an open door policy. When they join Terra, it is like an extension of their own family and to only focus on women in the workplace at Terra would be a mistake as, in my opinion, it’s about having the right leadership team and ensuring that everyone – women or men – can approach us and share concerns they may have, or introduce ideas that would improve the culture at Terra,” she says.

“At Terra, we take fitness very seriously, running half marathons, 10ks, five a side football and playing squash. But we also appreciate that mental fitness is as important as physical fitness and offer through our healthcare scheme counselling and a hotline anyone can call to discuss issues they may have.”

Lucy Lincoln, senior channel marketing manager at BullGuard, says the software vendor recognises just how important gender diversity is.

“It’s a fact that tech businesses with women in executive positions do incredibly well. Both Facebook and Google have women in prominent positions on their boards. Female executives also make up nearly half of Google’s management team,” she tells PCR.

“The success of these companies isn’t a coincidence. Numerous studies have revealed the economic benefits of diversity. According to a McKinsey study, Why Diversity Matters, companies in the top quarter for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have better financial returns.”

At BullGuard, the gender ratio breakdown is 70% male and 30% female. Women are represented in every department from finance, marketing, R&D and sales, to customer support, project management, product management and HR. At the management level, almost 42% of leaders within BullGuard are women.

“Why is this? Well-managed gender diversity brings together varied perspectives and produces a more holistic analysis of the issues a company faces. It spurs greater effort and leads to improved decision-making,” explains Lincoln.

“We understand that diversity generates wider thinking, which translates into greater innovation and improved company performance irrespective of which industry a company is in. Within BullGuard, workforce diversity leads to more insight, more innovation and better products.”

Sam Johnson, community engagement manager at Brother UK, says diversity is at the heart of the organisation.

“We’ve launched a Diversity and Inclusion Programme to promote the discussion of gender equality and accelerate diversity in the workplace,” she tells PCR.

“As a global business, we’re also aligned with the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs), a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Among the important targets they set out – gender equality is a key commitment that’s close to our business.”

The future workforce

As we move into 2020, we ask our industry experts if they have seen improvements in diversity over the past few years, and what more can be done to ensure the channel continues to evolve?

“Wow that’s a big question and I guess I have to say yes, it has improved. I started out in tech 24 years ago in a male dominated environment and got raised eyebrows when I made it clear I wanted to progress into a managerial role,” says Shepherd.

“I raised more eyebrows when I came out as gay and whilst this didn’t hinder my career progression it was not an easy step for me to take. 20 years ago people were not quite so liberal in their views,” she reveals.

“I have seen over the years many individuals be brave to say ‘I’m different’, whether that’s through their sexuality, or how they identify in terms of race, religion or gender and it’s great to see these individuals progressing – not because they are different, but because they can do the job better than anyone else.

Shepherd continues: “Whilst it’s great to be a women in tech, it’s also important that the balance does not swing too far and that we recognise both women and men in tech, based on what they are capable of doing and not based on gender and ticking a box.”

Lincoln points out that all the evidence suggests that women want to go into tech but they encounter barriers that put them off.

“If we don’t encourage women to take up digital and management roles, we’re missing out on an enormous pool of talent,” she explains. “The trick is to encourage and attract women into tech by showing them it’s not an exclusively male and geeky environment.

They can carry out roles that are cutting edge and innovative and roles that make a real-world difference.”

Lincoln continues: “We encourage participation in conferences as speakers, such as DefCamp and Girls Who Code. DefCamp, for instance, is the most important annual conference on hacking and information security in Central Eastern Europe. Every year it brings together the world’s leading cybersecurity practitioners and experts to share the latest research and knowledge and it’s a great profile booster for our female employees.

“In this fast-paced digital age we all need a strategy for achieving competitive advantage and an important driver is encouraging greater diversity in the workplace. It’s important for other companies to recognise the value of workplace diversity. It’s certainly not about paying lip service or meeting diversity quotas; it’s far more than that,” stresses Lincoln.

“It’s about acknowledging there is an enormous pool of untapped potential out there, recognising the real value of workplace diversity and doing what you can to break down gender barriers in order to drive the business forward.”

Johnson points out that, despite nearly 50% of senior management positions across Brother UK being held by women, this isn’t reflective of the industry-wide picture, where women account for just 17% of UK tech workers overall.

“Clearly, only a small proportion of girls are choosing to take STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses or enter technical careers. This means the IT channel could be missing out on attracting key talent,” she says.

“This is something we’re addressing as part of our work within the community. We have a programme aimed at promoting STEM careers to local school students. Our product management team support at local exhibitions to promote these disciplines and opportunities through our apprenticeship programme – interacting with more than 1,000 students from a variety of backgrounds.

“If vendors and channel companies each engage with school students, and encourage a wider base of people to take up careers in STEM, it could pay dividends in safeguarding the industry’s future talent pipeline.”

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