Creating a workplace culture that ensures all employees are included and valued is crucial. While it may be an investment, employees are the most essential part of any company and should be the first priority. In our Diversity, Equality and Inclusion roundtable, responses from Ann Keefe: “Regional Director UK & Ireland at Kingston Technology, David Watts, managing director and senior vice president, UK and Ireland, Tech Data, Bev Markland, Chief People Officer at Agilitas, Pete Gullick, Marketing Director at Retail Marketing Group and Carlyn Foster, Head of Marketing, 4D Data Centres explore the current trends towards D&I and why implementing a stagey tailored to your own company’s work ethic is important for embracing your most valued asset – your employees.
Why is the UK tech sector still behind on DEI regardless of the operational benefits?
Ann Keefe: “I think it is crucial for any company, not only in the tech sector, to assess how well it has implemented DE&I. It is important to lead by example and by that – contribute to society at large.
“We at Kingston Technology (EMEA) have employees from 43 different nationalities and 46% – 54% is the ratio of female to male employees. This is pretty much equal, keeping in mind that Tech Nation statistics suggest that only 19% of the wider tech workforce are women. Kingston culture is highly inclusive, and our cultural diversity is at the heart of what we do.
Somebody’s gender/nationality/sexual orientation/religion is of no concern – we value individuals for who they are as people, how they perform their job and whether they align with Kingston’s core values – one of those being, “Respect for each other in our culturally diverse environment”. We see that there is always room for improvement, but it is always great to see our partners in the channel embracing this ethic.”
David Watts: “I’m not convinced it has been and if it was then I think it is now making good progress and I see a lot of positive action. Traditionally IT sales and technical has been a male bastion and are therefore growing from a less diverse background, so we haven’t historically looked like the general population. To make meaningful change, the challenge will continue to be convincing senior people – the ones who can really kick-start DEI initiatives and make it happen in their organisation – that it needs to be done. Visible and supportive leadership is key to making real change.”
Bev Markland: “The UK tech sector continues to achieve exponential growth, with diversity and inclusion continuing as a key priority for the channel, as currently only 9% of C-Suite leaders are female. However, one of the main reasons why the UK tech sector is unable to achieve specific diversity milestones, is its male-dominated workforce, with up to 77% of tech director roles fulfilled by men. Although there are a range of benefits in maintaining a diverse workforce, including more valued employees and improving the reputational status of the sector, it seems voices aren’t reaching high enough to implement this change. Channel talent shouldn’t be limited to specific demographic factors, and not closing this gap soon enough means we risk restricting growth in one of the UK’s most valued sectors.”
Pete Gullick: “The last few years have thrown a huge hit to the tech industry as a whole, with millions of people being put on furlough and some being made redundant. McKinsey & Company’s report showed that COVID-19 has, in some areas, widened the gender gap in the workplace, highlighting women’s fear of an increasing ‘double shift’ when it comes to their work and family, compared to that of men.
“Elsewhere, employees who identify as LGBTQ+ and BAME are feeling more isolated, reporting higher workloads than their straight and cisgender peers. This has overall impacted their feeling of connection and belonging. It is clear that companies must not only put their focus on recruiting but turn their eyes internally on how they can improve their working culture.”
Carlyn Foster: “While more diversity is now being seen in prominent roles, within the tech sector there is still much to do. Diversity is now an essential part of any workforce, yet as recently as 2019, Uptime Institute published a report, which found that 25% of managers surveyed had no women among their design or operational staff. Furthermore, just 5% of respondents said women made up 50% or more of their workforce.
“DEI is a major factor for those applying for roles, but with only a fraction of the UK’s female workforce operating in IT, this is a massive limitation on the potential scale of who could be qualified to work in the sector.
“These figures underline the challenge that the sector faces when it comes to inclusivity or equal opportunities and, while it is not insurmountable, there is no doubt that it is a large scale task with no one-size-fits-all solution.”
How can implementing an appropriate DEI strategy translate into success for start-ups?
Ann Keefe: “A start-up should, from the beginning, employ people from all walks of life. I believe that there is a link between diversity and productivity as it brings various skills and talents together, all of which are working on the same objectives. This is how diversity translates into success; when a team from all kinds of cultural backgrounds come together, it sparks creativity, ideas and problem-solving.
“Kingston Technology is an inclusive company with a respectful culture which adheres to its core values. We value our employees and believe that in order for them to reach their full potential, they should be able to feel safe and comfortable in their working environment. We consider ourselves as the Kingston family and care for each other through acceptance, understanding, education and support. Employing people from a number of backgrounds means that our problem solving is much more varied and interesting.”
David Watts: “For any business you need the best talent available to you. You need to show for real that you are open to anyone, and that all individuals arriving in your business can come as themselves and be respected.”
Bev Markland: “Gender equality needs to be addressed in all companies in order to attain long-term success, as those with an inclusive culture are six times more likely to be innovative, and twice as likely to hit better financial targets. Furthermore, start-ups implementing efficient DEI strategies will paint the organisation as a diverse and inclusive company which will help it to find and nurture the best talent, increase employee engagement, and improve customer willingness to buy. This rapport will be strengthened by upholding a start-up’s reputation as an industry partner that is committed to diversity, allowing employees and consumers to feel valued, increasing psychological safety and trust within the workplace, and overall championing and creating new worthwhile initiatives.”
Carlyn Foster: “With Britain’s tech sector now at the heart of the government’s plan to transform the economy, it’s hard to believe that the industry is so badly impacted by skill shortages.
“Implementing schemes that link businesses with education facilities is so important to both the present and future of the industry. The sector needs to be in a good place and get the attention of upcoming talent, educating them on the opportunities that organisations, including startups have to offer. If the options aren’t made clear and early enough, roles are going to get harder to fill.
“Helping school students to learn more about engineering for example is inspiring the next generation and providing realistic role models in the form of existing engineers. Those taking part in schemes can improve their communication skills and gain experience of public engagement, preparing them for industry, academia or public sector roles.”
How can the tech channel look to improve on DE&I strategy?
Ann Keefe: “It is down to us, as industry leaders, to make a change for future generations. Children and girls in STEM have been an important focus for us and I strongly advise other companies to take the same approach.
“Some of the amazing UK charities we have worked with include:
- Apps for Good: A charity that provides free technology courses to students, inspiring them to find their passion in IT. We recently sponsored the Community Champions category.
- “Mentoring: Another charity that we are proud to support is The Girls’ Network. Some of Kingston’s team members offer a one-to-one scheme to help young girls improve their confidence, feel less pressured to fulfil society’s expectations, help them to focus on school and feel more positive about their future career choices.
- “On a more local level we support two schools including talking to them about the industry and inspiring them to choose a career in tech.”
David Watts: “It starts with leadership – there needs to be a sincere commitment from senior management to DEI and they need to give it focus and time. Every employee needs to know that to work in your business requires them to be inclusive and to treat everyone fairly in every aspect of their work. To do this takes some time – time and energy and activity to ensure it is very visibly on the agenda and in the values of the company you work for.”
Bev Markland: “The tech channel can improve its DE&I strategy by ameliorating its current workplace culture, diversifying its current workforce and overtly releasing its workforce gender, racial, and ethnic composition data, helping it pave the way to incentivise change. Change can only be effectively demonstrated from the top-down, meaning DE&I strategies need to be implemented at every level of management. This entails allowing the CEO to take an affirmative stance on the issues and lead the company’s progress toward achieving DE&I goals. Ambitious goals should be set that align with the company’s DE&I strategy, which should be equally both tangible and measurable.”
Pete Gullick: “What tech companies need to prioritise in order to positively affect diversity in their ranks is to push understanding and visibility in both recruiting and retaining.
“Teaching STEM subjects in schools has done wonders in increasing the level of women in the industry, with the tech sector now hosting 22% of female directors. Yet with only 19% of tech workers being women, it is clear that the ‘it’s for boys’ narrative still prevails. In order to shift away from this mindset, companies need to provide young women with representation, by showcasing female leaders wherever they can.
“Tech companies should also look at where they are recruiting and how. Are they appealing to a diverse market through the job description or location of the advertisement? It may be that companies are actively looking for a diverse workforce, but where and how they look are holding them back.”
Carlyn Foster: “A key part of meeting demand in the long term, is acknowledging the importance of improving DEI in the workforce. And when it comes to data centres, there is often a lack of understanding about what the sector is and the career opportunities it presents.
“The broader tech sector needs to ensure sufficient representation of underrepresented groups. This is arguably more vital than ever, after the development of digital technologies across both business and society were escalated by circumstances facilitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lack of diversity can stifle substantive innovation, not only in terms of technical development but in business structures and organisational development. An increasingly diverse workforce is more creative and innovative and as technological developments grow at unprecedented rates, the data centre industry in particular continues to play a key role in the nation’s infrastructure and could certainly benefit from innovation.”
What does the industry stand to lose if it does not improve its DE&I focus?
Ann Keefe: “We need to encourage good candidates to choose the IT industry, by being comprised of organisations that they will want to work for, so in this field having strong DE&I strategies is a must.
“According to Glassdoor (2021) 72% of UK job seekers report that they take workforce diversity into consideration when applying for jobs. The IT industry must listen and act on that. Also, from an employer standpoint, when you expand your recruitment criteria and hire people from more diverse backgrounds, you are more likely to find the best candidate for the position.
“I can say that Kingston has counted on the best team for the past 35 years and a lot of our employees have remained with Kingston for 10-25 years!”
David Watts: “I think it’s more important to focus on what the industry has to gain by being more focused and placing DE&I high on the agenda. In a way the answer is obvious. If a business is entirely open and inclusive, it will be a happier, more productive workplace and environment; it will be able to draw on a much larger talent pool. It is also my belief that businesses that are truly diverse are more creative and innovative, and that’s vital too. Over time, not being truly diverse will also become a burden on businesses, not only because they may not be able to attract the best talent, but also due to customers scrutinising their stance on DE&I and choosing to work only with suppliers that are taking positive action on diversity.”
Bev Markland: “Businesses should aim to implement initiatives that ensure women have equal space to contribute to the solution to climate change. It has been found that women are disproportionately impacted and can do an incredible amount of work to confront sustainability issues. Fostering Diversity and Inclusion as a bedrock within channel strategy also advocates for more employee-centric workplace culture, driving employee appreciation and employee productivity. Thus, without an extensive DE&I strategy, the industry risks falling short of benefiting from better employee communication and well-being, but also allowing industry partners to take advantage of the potential of a better reputation and business operations.”
Pete Gullick: “There has been endless research about the positive impact of a diverse workforce on businesses, including employee wellbeing, strategic success, innovation, and overall profitability.
“Not only this, DE&I is more important than ever for a business’s reputation. Consumers are increasingly conscious of DE&I issues, and through social media and other means, they are willing to be more vocal than ever before. In a dense and competitive market, ensuring you walk the walk as much as you talk the talk is absolutely essential for brand reputation.”
Carlyn Foster: “According to research from Uptime, the global data centre industry will need to find 300,000 more staff by 2025. This shortage of staff and creation of new job roles provides a perfect opportunity to boost diversity and the initiatives that have been created. However, the sector must do more to make wholesale change and create the representation it needs to see.
“There is certainly not a fool-proof way to address the lack of female representation within the tech industry. However, the initiatives being put in place are a promising start and place a greater emphasis on grassroots to encourage larger takeup levels at an earlier age. Acknowledging the problem is certainly a stepping stone in tackling the issue, but there are many steps we can still take to ensure this isn’t a conversation the sector and broader tech industry needs to keep having.”
Is enough currently being done to encourage more DE&I within the tech sector or are economic conditions and other wider initiatives being put first?
Ann Keefe: “Despite the tough challenges currently faced by the channel, Kingston will always remain true to our core values that have served us well for the past 35 years. We have overcome previous economic hardships over that time, so will continue to maintain those values as it will only make us stronger as a team.
By choosing the path of being more inclusive, we are contributing to equality within the tech industry. I encourage other companies to consider it as well because together we can change the stigmas and for example encourage more women such as myself to take the leap of faith and choose to develop a career in technology. We want them to know that they are valued and empowered.”
David Watts: “Over the last three years it could have been easy and understandable to be distracted. Actually, what I saw in the many IT communities I work within was an acceleration of the discussion around DE&I during this time. Maybe it was just time for it, and it would have happened anyway, or maybe it accelerated as businesses focused on their people more during the pandemic. But there has been a change in the last two to three years. “There isn’t much room now for companies to say DE&I is something they plan to look at later. Those days are gone.”
Bev Markland: “Collaboration is now a key part of the transition to achieving a resilient and circular economy. Innovation isn’t born in isolation, and the need to align on the goals and risks that can arise from implementing new DE&I processes is crucial and should be shared throughout the Channel industry in order to find the best approaches and solutions. Moving forward, businesses have both a responsibility and the opportunity to do better for their partners, people and the planet. Although sustainability is consistently printed at the forefront, DE&I should also be considered, alongside, a burgeoning effort to ensure ethical practice and inclusivity within the sector, so that the best possible results always coincide with representing and upholding employees.”
Pete Gullick: “Ultimately, there’s always more that can be done. There’s a common narrative that we have ‘achieved’ DE&I but this is simply not true, and there continues to be instances of ignorance or bias in workplaces across the country.
“With so many issues happening elsewhere – including the ongoing pandemic, economic issues, staff shortages and so on – sometimes the conversation can be pushed into the background. Fortunately, there are many individuals and organisations that maintain dialogue and push for change alongside tackling the many other issues we are currently facing.”
Carlyn Foster: “One of the areas where we can encourage more diversity, particularly for getting women into tech and data-related roles, is at grassroots level. This includes placing a greater emphasis on a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
“According to a WISE report, from 2019-20 just 24% of the UK STEM workforce was made up of women. While this percentage is and continues to remain low, recent data has shown female STEM students believe the future is positive – and think the imbalance will change for the better in the next decade.
“Educational institutions have a responsibility to ensure opportunities to learn STEM subjects and make sure they are delivered in a way that is appealing and motivating to students from different backgrounds and genders. Diversity isn’t a tick box exercise that can be fixed by simply imposing quotas; it’s an opportunity to learn and make meaningful changes.”