Growing the Industry: Expanding our definition of diversity
Early in my career I was obsessed with bringing more women into the digital technology industry, a bit of a one trick pony in that regard. Then - like the shutters coming off my eyelids (as a fabulous woman once described it to me) - I started to see the lack of diversity surrounding me.
Many of us have been banging our heads against the diversity brick wall for years. Many companies are making a supreme effort changing their language, their culture, using blind CV’s when hiring, yet the challenges persist. This needs collective, affirmative action to solve.
You have heard it all before. As an industry we have the power to influence the daily lives of others, it’s a huge responsibility - the software, services and hardware we produce - as we shape process flows, define decision making algorithms and create standardised user experiences. There are many stories out there on racist software or hardware, websites and apps visually impaired people cannot use, gender bias built into code etc etc - a long list.
The point I am trying to make is for your company or team are creating products for any population that team should reflect the diversity of society / your customers.
You can’t be what you can’t see
When a reporter called me last week to ask about one of my (very rare) tweets calling out a #Manal (an all male panel) and congratulating Lance Wiggs for giving up his seat, he asked me why it matters if there were only men on the stage?
I started prattling on about how we need to expand our definition of diversity beyond gender and ethnicity - abilities, socioeconomic, culture, sexual orientation, age, neurodiversity, education, politics - I went on for a while.
In terms of Manals, faces and voices in media, who holds the seats at the board / management / leadership levels of organisations, who we see graduating from universities - you can’t be what you can’t see.
You can read the article here, it’s good and worth a read.
Gender diversity still matters
Reflecting on why I was so focused on women in the industry I wonder if it was because I didn’t work with another woman during the first 10 years of my career? - no women in my teams, no women working in the same discipline as me, no women in the wider department other than administrators. It also could have been seeing so many women leave the industry never to return, giving up on fighting the “bro culture”, the lack of flexibility and finding they simply had no voice.
Depending on which report you read as of today between 24% and 27% of the digital technology industry in Aotearoa are women - when I entered the industry we had peaked at 30+% women working in the industry. In the UK the numbers have continued to fall steadily and today its less than 20%.
We all know the stories of pioneering women as early coders when “there was a brief period where coding was seen as “women’s work”, as it involves a lot of focus on detail and typing”.
No matter the reason something needs to fundamentally change, as 50% of the population we should be 50% of the digital technology workforce plain and simple.
What’s the call to action here?
Our current skills shortage is not new, to be honest we have faced a tight labour market, ever increasing salaries or contract rates, scarcity of the latest hot-topic-skills my whole working life. It's bad, Covid has changed things in new and interesting ways, but it's not a new issue. We have been sleeping at the wheel so to speak when it comes to creation of talent for our industry especially when it comes to embracing diversity.
Everyday I hear about a new initiative starting to focus on building the talent pipeline, no exaggeration every day a new one pops up. On one hand this is great. It is awesome many of these new initiatives are focusing on opening the minds of minority groups to the possibilities digital technology can bring - we need this, we need Māori led initiatives, Pasifica led initiatives. On the other hand it’s creating massive fragmentation of effort, yet more initiatives are now fighting for the limited funding out there for digital education (no matter the age group they are targeting), struggling for resources and traction.
My call to action is twofold.
1. Take a look at your team, your business - how diverse is your team? Does it reflect the community or customers you are serving?
- Take affirmative action to create an environment that is supportive, embraces manaakitanga, is culturally secure and able to support anyone from any background - which might need to include finding external support for minorities who join you.
- Does your office support an employee with different physical abilities? Can you create a remote role to enable someone who is neurodiverse to join your team?
- Then only when you are ready;
- Put diversity at the centre of your hiring framework, consider taking a chance on someone who isn’t senior helping them develop into the role, or someone from another industry or who is looking to reskill and learn a new capability. The key here is taking active steps to make a change.
2. Don’t start a new thing! Channel your energy into supporting one of the many diversity focused initiatives out there.
- There are loads of fledgeling and mature initiatives out there - NGO’s, community based, Marae based, library based - and they all need help, volunteers, coordinated efforts, money you name it, they all need help.
- Swing behind one or many of these and throw your efforts and energy into something that is already scoped and operating rather than designing from scratch.
- Do your due diligence and find values based alignment of course.
- If you are struggling where to get started try DECA or come and ask me, we can point you in the right direction.
Finally - if you are reading this and are a woman who works in the digital technology industry or if you identify as diverse, consider standing up and being seen. You could write a guest post for this blog, or speak at one of our webinars - I will create a safe space for you to do this.
We need to show the “tech bros” this isn’t just their space, we belong here too - and how we make the industry so much better for our presence.
Kia pai tō rā, Vic
You can read previous blogs in this series on Growing The Industry below:
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