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Why role models needed in technology to promote greater diversity

Philip Low

For an industry that is shaping our digital future with the ambition to improve “the economy, the environment, and society as a whole” is it fair to question whether the technology sector suffers from a chronic diversity problem when it leads in so many other areas. Contributor Philip Low, Chairman – BroadGroup

For quite some time there has been outcry at the lack of equality and inclusion in technology but has this been more perception than reality? According to a recent study by the British Computer Society (BCS) just 17 percent of technical roles are filled by women*.

In the same report, of those working in technology, 8 percent were disabled, 21 percent were from older age groups and 17 percent were from ethnic minorities. When compared to figures for the general labour market the levels of inclusion in IT, with respect to age and ethnicity, have actually improved slightly in recent years.

If you consider gender at a grassroots level, there are a lack of girls in the UK who take STEM subjects at GCSE. 7 percent go on to take relevant higher qualifications at level 4 or above, compared with 21percent of boys. While there is a whole tangle of reasons for the gender gap in Stem learning, research conducted from different perspectives demonstrate there is little to no difference in boys’ and girls’ average ability at Stem subjects – indicating more of a stereotype problem.

One way to encourage a broader range of individuals from different backgrounds would be to use appropriate role models. In the past, a lack of high-profile female role models has limited the appeal of technology as a future career but today there are many more examples of senior female leaders who could champion that role for school age girls.

Dean Nelson, Founder of the iMasons told us that one of the most pressing challenges we faced in the industry was attracting and retaining talent. ‘There simply aren’t enough qualified people to build and operate the systems that feed the insatiable appetite of the digital age’. Women and other underrepresented groups represent a huge and relatively untapped pool of technology talent.

When the UK commission for Employment and Skills says that that 43 percent of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) vacancies are currently hard to fill owing to a lack of skilled candidates there is a clear need to broaden the appeal of technology to as wide an audience of individuals as possible.

Gender diversity also leads to more competitive organisations where the culture is open to different ideas and ways of thinking. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace gets the best out of people and organisations. We all bear a responsibility to help deliver this.

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