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May 28, 2021updated 31 Mar 2023 4:42pm

What happened to all the pledges? Tech companies fail to take action on diversity

After George Floyd's murder, tech companies around the world rushed to send pledges to end racism and improve diversity within their companies. But one year on, little has changed.

By Cristina Lago

Over half of London’s black technology professionals think that tech companies have not yet implemented meaningful action around diversity despite the Black Lives Matter protests that followed George Floyd’s murder a year ago. A framework for implementing changes could help, but businesses themselves must be prepared to take significant steps to promote greater inclusion.

Research published on Thursday by Tech London Advocates (TLA), UKBlackTech and TLA Black Women in Tech shows that although diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) education in the workplace has increased, the sector needs to do more to address its diversity problem. Indeed, 53% of black IT workers polled think companies have yet to take the required steps to improve the situation.

A different report by Black Tech Fest, an event organised by non-profit Colorintech and business group Informa Tech, has found that over one-third (38%) of UK tech workers think their employer’s response to George Floyd’s murder has been tokenistic. The study, which surveyed 55,000 UK tech workers, also shows that 42% of respondents had “observed no change” when it comes to awareness of racism among senior leaders in their organisations.

When it comes to venture capital (VC) funding, 69% of tech workers surveyed by Black Tech Fest said they had "observed no change" in funding and investment for black people in the start-up ecosystem since May 2020.

“A year later we are reflecting on all the pledges, the words and the campaigns," says Mark Martin, computer scientist and co-lead at UKBlackTech. "Has it brought any kind of impact or sustainability since those things have been mentioned over a year ago? These things take forever to get going in my eyes. That’s where we are at."

A change which should have happened: the ethnicity pay gap

One of the changes that Martin said could have happened by now is the examination of the ethnicity pay gap. Since 2017, UK employers with over 250 members of staff must report by law their gender pay gap. However, despite similar projects having been touted for the ethnicity pay gap, none have materialised to date.

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“[The tech industry] could have looked in terms of the pay disparities when it comes to black workers within the industry,” said Martin. “I know some companies like Lloyds Bank have admitted that 20% of their workforce who are coming from a black background are not getting paid the right money.”

Flavilla Fongang, founder of tech branding agency 3 Colours Rule and lead of TLA Black Women in Tech, said that promotions for black tech workers often don't come with appropriate pay increases and that organisations must ensure that black workers, particularly black women, are paid the same salaries as their white counterparts: “We've seen the numbers are there. Black people get less, but black women even less money. Those elements are very important.” Fongang added that black women also secure less serious investment for their tech ventures.

TLA Black Women in Tech has been partnering with companies, including Microsoft, Deutsche Bank, Apple, to improve representation at all organisational levels. Although based in London, the group works as a global network that builds bridges between tech firms and black female talent. “TLA Black Women in Tech and UKBlackTech were created before George Floyd’s murder happened. We already understood the importance of diversity and we were working on that.”

Another issue that Martin said should have been dealt with already is representation at executive level. Sixty-seven per cent of those surveyed in the TLA-UKBlackTech report said that the single most effective way to improve inclusion in tech is by increasing the diversity of executive boards. In addition to this, 74% of respondents saw a direct correlation between the diversity of boards and more open and inclusive cultures within tech companies. “These are some of the things that we should have been seen by now,” says Martin.

Diversity in UK tech: a framework is required

UKBlackTech has worked with more than 50 companies to help tackle inequalities but Martin says most of the time these meetings were "like therapy sessions" that lacked concrete action afterwards. To succeed in their efforts, firms need to continue working with organisations embedded in the black tech space, adds Martin, who says many firms are "paralysed" when it comes to taking action around these issues. "They think they can do it themselves," he says. "But if you've internally got a problem, sometimes you need external people to help you through that process.”

Fongang told Tech Monitor that the industry needs a framework that gives guidance for what employers need to put in place and how to enforce it within their organisation, stakeholders and suppliers.

“Things have gone really fast, but there's so much more that needs to be accomplished,” said Fongang. “We need a framework. People are scared of doing the wrong thing and tend not to do anything, or just follow bad approaches and therefore things don’t change.”

Martin and Fongang both believe that fighting racism and tackling diversity and inclusion in tech are efforts that must go beyond the workplace, starting in the education system and backed up by financial support to organisations who are embedded in groups working with black tech workers. "It's about how are we holding ourselves accountable and being very transparent in terms of what are we saying," Fongang adds. "It's a long-game exercise."


Home page photo by Julian Leshay/Shutterstock.

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