Building the digital skills landscape

The urgent need to address challenges around diversity and inclusion has come to the fore in recent months, with the Black Lives Matter movement shining a much-needed spotlight on the prevalence of racial inequalities. However, the fact remains that just 5% of leadership positions in the UK technology sector are held by women and only 4% of the UK tech workforce is black, Asian or minority ethnic.

Keeping diversity and inclusion at the top of the business agenda during and after the COVID-19 pandemic is vital in driving real change in the industry. A recent study by CIPD found that before the virus outbreak, 14% of employers put diversity and inclusion in their top three HR priorities, compared to just 5% one month into lockdown.

To help the UK ‘build back better’ from this crisis, we need digital skills now more than ever before. A robust approach to diversity and inclusion has a crucial role to play in developing these capabilities, so it’s vital it doesn’t slip down the list of business priorities.

As key nurturers of digital skills, technology companies must raise their game in fostering inclusive cultures to broaden their applicant pool and inspire talent of all ages, genders and ethnicities to pursue a career in the industry. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

Cheryl Allen

For real progress to be made, it is no longer acceptable for businesses to merely pledge their commitment to tackling the issue; they need to take a multidimensional approach in ensuring that diversity of thought and different skill sets are built into the very foundations of the organisation.

Building diversity and inclusion into company culture

Diversity has been shown to boost innovation, help remove unconscious bias and give companies wider market awareness – all of which leads to better technology solutions and improved productivity. Although racial and gender disparities exist in a variety of industries, the tech world has shown persistent gaps within its ranks.

The path to creating a diverse company culture begins at the recruitment stage. Organisations need to think differently about how they not only attract and retain employees but how they get access to wider tech talent pools. They need to be viewing recruitment through a different lens, considering factors like: which candidates possess the most transferable skills? How will they appeal to different audiences? And how will they demonstrate inclusive leadership, especially in a time of crisis?

This can be achieved by making hiring decisions based on performance data from skills-based assessments as opposed to traditional face-to-face interviews. That way, companies can accurately and fairly assess a candidate’s suitability for a role, and in turn remove unconscious bias from the interview process. According to Indeed, the world’s largest job website, only 13% of job advertisements include diverse and inclusive language. By adopting the right language in job descriptions, organisations can encourage applications from a more varied pool of candidates, creating a more diverse workforce.

While many organisations will focus their policies on supporting protected characteristics in isolation, it’s the organisations that develop holistic inclusive policies that will be more successful in embedding long term cultural change. A holistic inclusive approach might see an organisation implement a menopause policy, a carers’ policy or focus on reducing gendered language in policies. If policies and practices don’t reflect what is embedded in organisational DNA, you risk ending up with a disaffected workforce by failing to evidence that the organisation is creating a welcoming, respectful and non-discriminatory workplace.

Diversify from within

Fostering a diverse workplace isn’t just about finding new talent; it’s also about developing the talent already within your ranks. People in different roles and with different experiences can provide unique perspectives when it comes to creative problem-solving.

Plugging existing gaps in a company by offering employees continued education and training opportunities through a reskilling programme can boost employee job satisfaction, help a company retain a competitive edge, and bring out the full potential of its existing workforce. Companies can transfer skilled employees into many non-obvious roles. For example, someone who has the basic understanding of cyber security as a discipline may also find their talents can be transferred into working on SAP or AI and automation technologies.

Employees should also have access to a platform that provides opportunities to discuss how diversity and inclusion challenges are being addressed on a company-wide level. Having an open line of communication is vital; one way of ensuring consistency could be to run focus groups with employees to get their feedback on the development of your diversity and inclusion strategy.

Similarly, launching a community programme which encourages employees to demonstrate they’re an advocate by following a few core commitments can provide a way for them to concretely signify their commitment to equality and take action in the workplace to support underrepresented groups.

Cultivating future talent

Ultimately, if tech companies want to make tangible progress in diversity and inclusion, they need their employees fully on board. Sharing your diversity and inclusion strategy widely, both internally and externally, will help demonstrate key values, foster an inclusive workforce and champion employees that have a diverse range of experiences and profiles. Ultimately, diversity can power innovation, and this innovation is what makes the technology sector thrive.

Employees expect companies to act as ethical and responsible employers, putting their needs first and providing them all with equal opportunities to excel. Therefore, it’s important that the tech industry continuously strives to cultivate a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and in which differences are recognised and celebrated.

Building back with digital skills

As the foundation for a world leading digital transformation strategy, digital skills will be vital to helping the UK’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to generate a pipeline of talent with a range of digital capabilities that accelerate innovation, create pioneering technologies and support the recovery of the most impacted sectors. A strong approach to diversity and inclusion across the technology sector will be integral to creating these skills, so we need a collective will for organisations to raise their game and start putting strategies into action.

Cheryl Allen

HR Director, Culture and Transformation at Atos


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