What steps can organisations take to nurture and support a diverse workforce? Caroline Moore, People Director at Sage, offers key insights.
We know that there is a diversity gap in the technology industry across the globe. A recent study by the British Computer Society found that only 17 per cent of technical roles in the UK are filled by women.
We are seeing increased pressure from all corners for technology companies to make sure their workforce is more reflective of wider society. For example, there are initiatives in the UK Government’s Tech Talent Charter that challenge companies to interview at least one female candidate for every new role.
These initiatives might not solve all of the technology industry’s diversity issues but they are certainly a step in the right direction.
And alongside this, organisations need to take practical steps to ensure that the change we all want actually happens.
Below are five key changes organisations can make to support greater diversity.
1. Address unconscious bias
The Equality Challenge Unit defines unconscious bias as the impact your background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context can have on your decisions and actions without you realising.
Implicit or unconscious bias happens because our brains make incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising. This bias can get in the way of any good intention and the fact that we don’t explicitly intend to behave this way often makes it difficult to address.
A good example of long held business bias is that women are better in human resources and that men are better in sales. The theory is that higher levels of empathy in women enables them to deal with HR processes better, while men’s competitive nature makes it easier for them to close deals. Closer observation, however, suggests that it’s not that clear cut.
A recent report suggests that men had a 49 per cent likelihood of moving opportunities to the next stage, while women boasted 54 per cent. Women also had win rates 11 per cent higher than men’s (on average).
Without challenging these biases, you could well be preventing yourself from recruiting the best staff, enabling promotions based on merit and developing an environment where everyone feels included.
2. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with different people
It is easy to surround yourself with people like yourself. That could be in terms of education, nationality, ethnicity, age, disability or sexual orientation. Widening the circle of people you surround yourself with could be the first step to a new understanding and appreciation of how different people function.
Employees should be encouraged to engage with colleagues that are different from them. This can be anything from casual conversations to full-on diversity training. No judgements, just questions and open discussions.
This might seem like a small task to take on but it goes a long way to improving trust and a sense of inclusion, and helps people broaden their perspectives.
3. Mentoring programmes and apprenticeships
A mentoring programme is very useful for confidence building and career progression. For example, a women’s mentoring programme can put younger female employees in direct contact with senior female employees, creating an opportunity for advice and support on career progression.
Apprenticeship programmes and work in schools also help to bridge the longer-term gap by engaging with a wide range of young people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. This helps promote the benefits of a career in technology.
4. Make the change at Board level and set measurable targets
In order to drive real change, the buy in needs to be at the top of the organisation. Its commercially a no brainer too! Gender diverse companies typically achieve 15% higher financial returns and gender & ethnically diverse companies return an extra 35%.
It’s important to set achievable targets and to have a clear idea of what you think diversity looks like. This will be different for different companies, depending on the particular needs, but having a clear target you are aiming for will make diversity easier to accomplish.
In some cases, it might even be helpful to attach a KPI or goal for your senior leaders to ensure that your push for diversity gets the time and attention it needs.
However, it is worth mentioning that headcount alone isn’t enough. Even though it is a good indicator of where things are and how much works needs to be done.
5. Be clear about why you want to improve diversity
The evidence suggests that organisations with a more diverse workforce are more competitive. But beyond that, it is important to know exactly why diversity is important to you.
In the UK, greater gender diversity on the senior executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in our data set: for every 10 percent increase in gender diversity, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rose by 3.5 percent.
Once you understand the true value of diversity, you can put a realistic policy in place that resonates with your business. Whatever the reason, you can use this “why” as an anchor and point of reference for the change you want to make.
Ultimately, diversity is not just about hiring different kinds of people. It’s about offering equal opportunities at every stage of the process regardless of education, nationality, ethnicity, age, disability, or sexual orientation.
Inclusion is also critical. It is a continuous process that must be done with all the right intentions. The road will not always be easy but when it comes together, it will be a great joy to behold.
About Caroline Moore
As People Director - Northern Europe, my role encompasses all things people across our business in the UK, Ireland and Northern Europe. Key priorities for me are developing people propositions that help engage our colleagues, develop our key talent and continually attract new talent into the Sage family.