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International Women’s Day: IT departments worse than average in most areas of inclusion

New analysis for Tech Monitor shows that IT functions underperform in most factors that promote diversity. Now is the time to address this.

IT departments score lower than average for all the factors that support diversity and inclusion, with the exception of their recruitment practices, new analysis conducted for Tech Monitor suggests. As a result, no industry has yet achieved gender parity in its technology workforce, and no technology role is occupied by as many women as men.

Experts advise that the shake-up of working practices that has resulted from the pandemic presents a golden opportunity to address these shortcomings by creating flexible and supportive workplaces that foster technology talent in all its forms.

diversity tech
IT departments scored especially poorly for career development. (Photo by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock )

Diversity and inclusion analytics company Diversio surveys workers to assess the performance of their employers in six dimensions that promote diversity and inclusion. These are an inclusive culture, fair management, career development, workplace flexibility, safety and recruitment.

Exclusively for Tech Monitor, Diversio analysed the responses of 901 employees in IT and technology roles. The employees were drawn from six large companies in a range of industries. These workers rated their employers as worse than the cross-department average in all but one category, namely recruitment and hiring, the analysis reveals. They scored their employers especially poorly for career development, which scored 4.4 out of a possible 10, and compared with a 5.7 average across all respondents.

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Segmenting respondents by demographic shows even more stark differences in the experiences of different tech workers. For example, female IT workers score their employers 0.7 points lower for workplace flexibility than men, and disabled staff score 0.9 points lower than their non-disabled colleagues. Female tech staff score their employers 0.6 points lower for workplace safety than men do, and disabled staff score it 1.4 points lower than their non-disabled colleagues. The most pronounced disparity is among LGBT+ tech workers, who score the safety of their workplace 2.3 points lower than their heterosexual colleagues.

IT departments, as well as technology companies, often struggle to establish an inclusive culture retroactively, says Wendy Saccuzzo, head of talent and partnerships at Tech Ladies. “Once they’re more well established, they then struggle with ‘How do we present ourselves as an inclusive place to work, when somebody who looks at our team sees that we’re all pretty much the same?’” she says.

Saccuzzo believes companies need to look at every part of their culture, starting with the hiring process, to see how they may be projecting a lack of inclusivity to prospective candidates.  “When you say your team is ‘work hard, play hard’ for example, for a lot of people that means there’s a lack of work-life balance,” she says. “There are these little phrases that people have gotten accustomed to saying, which might not always reflect the most inclusive environment for people.”

“It’s not just about hiring women, it’s also about creating a space where all marginalised people feel able to succeed,” says Saccuzzo. “Changing the way we do things because we’ve always done it that way can be really hard, but it has to start somewhere.”

The most diverse industries and technology roles

Meanwhile, a new study by Tech Talent Charter (TTC), a non-profit working towards diversity and inclusion in technology roles, reveals that although some industries fare better than others, not one has achieved gender parity in its technology workforce.

The study, which draws on data from TTC’s 418 signatory organisations, covering over 160,000 workers in a variety of industries and business sizes, found that non-profits, HR and events companies are far closer to gender parity in their tech roles, while technology and information industries had less than a quarter women in tech roles.

The high-performing industries are also among the most-women dominated overall, with women making up almost three-quarters of the workforce in both non-profits and HR. But technology leaders in these industries shouldn’t get complacent, warns Debbie Forster, TTC’s founder and CEO. “It’s not an automatic assumption, and God help the tech department that thinks we can just ride on the coat-tails of the organisation as a whole,” she says.

Data about racial diversity in tech roles is harder to come by, says Forster, as many companies decline to report it or there may not be enough BAME staff to gather meaningful data. Asian staff are often well represented among tech departments, with TTC estimating they make up 65% of BAME staff, she adds. This means that broad categorisations such as BAME or PoC can mask racial inequalities.

The technology roles with the most gender parity are in user experience design and product development, TTC found: 37% of these roles are held by women. This is followed by roles in data (36%) and quality assurance (30%). Only a fifth of engineering (22%) and IT operations (20%) workers are women, although engineering has seen the biggest improvement, up from 17% in 2019.

This data demonstrates the opportunity to find tech workers from within the company, Forster argues. For example, many women in tech roles start in quality assurance and can be supported in gaining the skills to move into other roles. “It’s powerful because you can then take people who are very committed to the company and have deep, rich knowledge of what a company does,” she says.

Inclusion in tech: diversifying the talent base

However, Forster says that for IT departments to reach parity on gender and other dimensions of diversity, the skills base they draw from needs to become more diverse. “A company could get their culture perfect, they could get their recruitment amazing, but there are not enough underrepresented people who are in tech full stop,” she says. “So the other piece of the puzzle that we’re really looking at and working with other companies is alternate routes into tech.”

A study by Stratigens, which analysed the tech skills self-reported by individuals on platforms such as GitHub, LinkedIn and Twitter, found that women and BAME people are underrepresented in the programming, engineering and data science talent pools in all major cities across the UK, with engineering the most severely affected. 

The technology sector evidently has more work to do to improve diversity and inclusion. Doing so can not only address the technology skills gap, but it could also aid economic inclusion across society, says Forster.

“We know that underrepresented groups are disproportionately hit by [the economic impact of the pandemic], and one of the only sectors that continued to grow and to advertise roles into lockdown was tech,” Forster says. “So if we take tech’s need for talent, tech’s willingness to lean into training and alternate routes, we could be filling our talent needs by getting people in jobs that are sustainable and have a future.”

Now, when working practices are in flux and new workplace cultures are being established, is the time to act, says Forster. “Far from Covid pushing us back down, this is a chance,” she says. “We’ve now exploded some of those myths, that we couldn’t possibly do remote working or flex hours. We’ve got this opportunity to make a real difference in the next 18 months.”

Katharine Swindells

Data journalist

Katharine Swindells is a data journalist at New Statesman Media Group, writing on technology and lifestyle.