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Tech industry losing steam for DE&I, finds TTC report

While the technology industry has made progress with diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives over the past five years, carelessness, budget cuts and rollbacks threaten to pause or reverse progress, the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) has found.

In its 2023 annual benchmarking report, the not-for-profit warned of “concerning changes” across the tech landscape, including a lack of leadership buy in and the risk of DE&I initiatives becoming performative rather than intentional.

The report stated: “Market tides are turning away from D&I despite the many powerful and enduring business cases in its favour. So, if we are going to eradicate some of these issues, we have to do it now before the window of opportunity narrows even further.”

Stating it has seen a shift over the past three years, TTC claimed in its report the outspoken effort tech firms were making three years ago are in many cases now being “shelved” in favour of other business priorities, with those who are fighting for DE&I either being made redundant or having to drop their efforts to focus on their core tasks.

The report said: “Painstakingly won D&I progress is at risk of being lost, and if we continue with the current trajectory it’s going to get worse.”

As Computer Weekly previously reported, TTC signatories are more dedicated when it comes to their D&I efforts, and therefore their figures positively reflect this effort, but the picture is more bleak for the industry as a whole.

As an example, the percentage of women and non-binary tech workers in TTC signatories reached 29% in 2023, whereas BCS figures reported women made up 20% of those in tech roles – TTC pointed out that the number of people who reported as non-binary was so small that the 29% figure practically represents only women.

Keeping women in the sector is becoming tougher – ONS figures from last year found that the number of women in the sector is dropping, dipping by 3,000 women between Q1 and Q2, and TTC found only one in six women who have been in their tech roles for more than a year are planning to stay in their role.

Last year, TTC’s report highlighted that a third of women in the industry are planning on leaving their current roles, and a quarter of those who left their roles in the past few years ended up leaving the tech sector altogether.

The downfall of many diversity initiatives is a focus solely on hiring without considering whether the business has the internal culture to retain any diverse hires, and with hiring being put on hold as a result of the current economic climate, a lack of robust inclusion practices is seeing underrepresented groups in tech moving roles or leaving tech.

While the numbers of particular underrepresented groups in tech are a common focus, other important elements for those coming into the sector – including equality of pay and equal promotional opportunities – are often overlooked when they could be the key to retaining diverse hires.

TTC uses the example that women are more likely than men to do side-of-the-desk tasks – party planning was mentioned as one of these unpaid extras at Splunk.conf 2023 – with women in tech saying these “non-promotable tasks” go unrecognised by employers.

Increasing cost of childcare is another reason women are jumping ship, as well as striving for work life balance and flexible working. TTC found that women who with flexible working hours were less likely to leave their role or company.  

People leaving their roles can indicate a lack of inclusion, or something going wrong – 15% of progression programmes are aimed at women, but 80% of women leaving their tech role said one of the reasons for putting tech behind them is because they were dissatisfied with their career progression.

TTC has always been about gathering and publishing data, and its report found only 26% of organisations enable employees to disclose being trans, and only 0.09% of tech employees reported they identify as non-binary, leaving TTC to warn that not recognising or collecting data about these individuals sends the signal that they are unwelcome in the organisation.

Not all companies are collecting ethnicity data either – TTC found that 73% of firms are collecting data about the ethnicity of their workforce, and only 63% are working towards creating greater ethnic diversity in tech.

TTC’s data found that a quarter of tech workers are from ethnic minority groups within its signatories, which is higher than figures from BCS showing 20% in the industry as a whole. But the not-for-profit also found that many employees are uncomfortable sharing information about their ethnicity, indicating a potential lack of trust in the DE&I initiatives within an organisation.

Looking at the data

Breaking down ethnicity data is a better way to know whether or not DE&I initiatives are really working. In TTC signatories, tech employees were made up of 18% Asian or British Asian individuals, which is higher than the national average of Asian or British Asian workers; whereas those from a Black, African, Caribbean or Black British background only made up 5% of the tech sector.

If diversity goals are aimed at increasing the number of tech workers in the organisation from a black ethnic background, measuring ethnicity data as a whole won’t help to track successes or failures.

It is often noted that while diversity is improving in the technology sector, when looking at more senior positions, there is still a lack of women and people from ethnic minorities in higher up positions in organisations.

TTC found that women make up 21% of senior tech workers in its signatories, and ethnic diversity drops to 14% when looking at leadership roles, despite BCS finding in its recent research that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are likely to be better educated than their white counterparts.

While care responsibilities are often cited as a reason women don’t make it into top roles, the same reasoning cannot necessarily be applied to workers from a minority ethnic background, indicating once again that there are likely inclusion and career development barriers standing in the way.

Figures have slowly gotten better each year the TTC has been collecting and publishing data, but this has not been without substantial effort, which is now being threatened by businesses stepping back when it comes to D&I, for whatever reason – be it financial, fatigue or a lack of ongoing commitment.

The report concluded: “We cannot leave D&I work on the side of someone’s desk and expect that it will happen alongside their day job. It also cannot be the responsibility of those in minority groups, who should be supported by these efforts rather than saddled with them, because nobody else cares enough to make it a priority.

“D&I advocates in your business are tired of assuming responsibility for a business critical area, while being denied leadership buy-in, resourcing or reward. Diversity and inclusion in tech has come as far as it can in the hands of passionate advocates, allies. If you want to see change now, the rest is up to you.”

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