When asked to identify the three greatest technology leadership challenges within their organisations, 61% of the 611 execs surveyed for Tech Monitor’s Technology Leaders Agenda 2021 cited the need to improve diversity and inclusion within the technology function. Thirty-seven per cent pointed to keeping employees motivated and engaged, and 32% said recruiting and retaining technology talent. These three factors, which made no direct mention of technology itself, were the most popular responses.
After an unprecedented period of remote working, restructuring, and crisis management, it is perhaps to be expected that issues around people and talent would rank highly. Such prominence is nevertheless striking and the findings are indicative of a longer-term trend within the technology function, accelerated, though not created, by our experience of pandemic.
“Retention is obviously high priority, but I was a little surprised to see it rank behind diversity and inclusiveness,” acknowledges Arun “Rak” Ramchandran, CVP and global head of hi-tech & professional services and digital core transformation at agenda partner Hexaware.
“For me, it reflects the changing role of technology within organisations, as well as the broader world. The technology agenda is becoming more pervasive and more prominent – and so too, therefore, is the technology leader. CIOs and CTOs are now driving overall business and strategic success, so it’s little surprise their priorities intersect much more with what we would have traditionally seen as being more the concern of the CEO. Diversity is a prime example of this shift.”
Reflecting your customers
Its prominence also reflects wider societal changes. Enterprises across all industries are engaging with consumers who are increasingly aware of – and basing business decisions upon – factors such as representation and sustainability. It is a shift in attitude is something that business leaders ignore at their peril. To get their response right, one’s workforce should reflect its customer base – and nowhere is that more important than within a tech function increasingly responsible for defining, managing and framing customer engagement.
“When you look at what technology function does right now, we really need to get past that idea of IT merely being a back-office responsibility,” says Ramchandran. “Technology underpins everything. You’re creating digital products and digital experiences, designing touchpoints that will be used by consumers, stakeholders or employees. These groups are inevitably diverse in nature.”
“That means, if you're trying to create a user experience, product, website, mobile app or workflow, you need to take into consideration the diversity of those that will be using it and their different expectations,” he adds. “ How do you actually make that happen? By having your own diverse team. Reflecting your users is a powerful way of aligning better with what the user experiences.”
Indeed, the consumerisation and democratisation of technology means that those responsible for its design and implementation must have a comprehensive appreciation of their user base, whether external or internal, like never before. In fact, failure to have technology teams in place who reflect that wider community increasingly poses significant reputational and operational risk.
“I think we already see a lot of that coming through in the controversy around use of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” observes Ramchandran. “Take bias in facial recognition software, for example. People are realising that a lot of it can be tracked back to the lack of diversity among the development teams themselves; bias inherent in the model, and the kind of data sets that have been fed in. So, how do you correct that? You have to have a more diverse group of people helping to lead development.”
An imperative, not a luxury
The business case is therefore clear: in order to better serve and create for a wide community, you must aspire to reflect that community demographically. From a recruitment perspective, diversity makes a company a more attractive place to work - younger generations, in particular, are inherently aware when their work environment does not reflect their lived experiences, Ramchandran believes. Diversity is also increasingly a defining factor in how customers, both individual consumer and large corporate client, choose the companies with whom they want to engage.
“It is certainly a huge part of [Hexaware’s] recruitment process,” says Ramchandran. “We are all living in a globalised, diverse world – whether you’re talking culture, gender, sexual orientation and so on. Why would you not want your workforce not reflect that?
“Furthermore, it is something a growing number of our partners are also focusing on – in many cases, our approach to diversity is an even bigger factor for clients than it is for the younger demographics we speak to at graduate fairs. It is a factor that’s increasingly addressed in our quarterly or half-yearly client reviews and they are insistent that it’s something their service providers and partners are addressing. That trend is only headed in one direction.”
The pandemic has also accelerated the speed of travel, Ranchandran adds, providing plenty of time and opportunity to reflect upon and absorb wider societal challenges.
“It has opened people’s eyes and made them more attuned to our differences,” he concludes. “But it has also provided significant opportunity to address the balance. You don’t necessarily need to recruit from and operate in the same old places and markets. There is now the possibility to investigate new geographies and talent pools like never before, drawing from a global workforce. That is very exciting.”