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January 24, 2018

Diversity in tech begins at home

Something has got to change. Businesses need to see this as an opportunity, a call to arms to embrace the benefits that diversity brings to the tech world.

By James Nunns

Last year the UK tech sector was reported to be growing faster than the economy, with

diversity

Robert Belgrave, CEO of Wirehive, Chair of BIMA South and co-creator of Alexa Stop!

an increasing amount of investment and talent flowing into the sector. The tech

industry is supposedly a future-facing and innovative sector, but it’s demographic split doesn’t fit in with this idea. Despite this, it continues to be male-dominated, with the figure for women in IT jobs declining by almost 10 per cent since 1990. These sorts of stats have no place in 2018. Something has got to change. Businesses need to see this as an opportunity, a call to arms to embrace the benefits that diversity brings to the tech world.

A growing number of initiatives aimed at accelerating diversity are addressing gender imbalance among tech workers. For example, the Tech Talent Charter’s new government funding project is asking businesses to share recruitment and gender pay gap data for their tech staff, which will raise awareness of the issue and start the process of solving it.

While the problem of gender is massively important, it is just one piece of the puzzle. Nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, ability and mental health must all be given equal attention if complete diversity is going to be achieved. Last year’s Tech vs Trump dispute on how the imposed immigration ban could harm the Silicon Valley tech industry’s talent, further emphasised the value that a diverse workforce brings to a sector and a country.

 

What about location diversity?

London too, like Silicon Valley, aims to foster a diverse workforce, as it enables better collaboration and more rapid, innovative development. But concentrating this sort of progress solely on the major hubs contradicts the overall goal of diversity – enabling equal opportunities for people, cities, organisations and ideas. Celebrating and encouraging digital talent outside the capital can only further increase the growth of the UK tech industry, opening a whole new world of concepts, tools and ingenuity.

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The good news is that the UK is the digital capital of Europe according to Tech Nation 2017’s survey, which points out that the country is a leader in tech investment, digital skills, talent and collaboration within ecosystems. This should be seen as an encouraging stat for the whole nation’s digital landscape.

Tech industry investments outside the capital are becoming increasingly more attractive for a number of reasons. While places like London and the Silicon Valley have excellent tech ecosystems that benefit from focused entrepreneurship and venture capital, the digital world beyond these geographical locales is also growing at a fast pace. The comparative scarcity of available investment forces companies to create more durable business plans, giving themselves more time to polish their products and strategies. Universities outside the capital are increasingly producing more skilled individuals who appreciate the benefits of lower costs of living and less competition. Furthermore, the progressively accessible, affordable and user-friendly cloud infrastructure providers are democratising access to knowledge and distribution networks which a start-up business would need.

 

Championing and attracting local talent

Nurturing the digital sector’s development and continuous growth is up to the whole industry. While major tech industry and government initiatives are vital in bringing about wider change, diversity needs to be tackled by businesses on a local scale too. With talent growing, the sector’s support networks should be expanding too.

Not-for-profit industry bodies, such as BIMA, are breaking down geographical barriers and biases of technology, through recognising local innovations on a national level. They further build and support forward-looking and pioneering communities. But commercial businesses can play a role too. At Wirehive we created the Wirehive 100 Awards and league table for this exact reason: to celebrate the digital excellence and technical talent that the Southern counties have to offer.

The recorded regional tech industry growth could be discouraged without the continuous backing and recognition of organisations like these. 68 per cent of the total UK digital tech investment in 2016 was in regional clusters beyond London, with cities like Edinburgh, Cambridge, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Manchester and Sheffield attracting nearly £700m investment in 2016. This means it is the whole industry’s responsibility to maintain and further encourage commitment to innovation and talent growth.

There are countless ways businesses can get involved in celebrating digital communities on a local level, from organising or supporting summits, awards and competitions, to launching training programmes that serve to educate and inspire the younger generations. Every change starts from the people and organisations demanding and needing it the most. This is why businesses cannot wait around for major bodies to lead the change. They must make diversity happen on the ground. Location is one type of diversity that feeds and nurtures an industry. It needs to be considered together with other factors like gender, sex, age, class and ethnicity, and the issues around them need to be addressed by the whole sector.

The tech community must join forces to encourage and celebrate diversity, while committing to limitless innovation. Working together will ensure the industry continues to thrive and discover new horizons.

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