Technology is synonymous with disrupting established norms, questioning authority and celebrating meritocracy. Many of its most famed leaders and innovators are celebrated for taking non-traditional paths to the very top of their industries, writing their own rules as they go.
Technology is also increasingly reshaping and defining our lives, with access to digital platforms fast becoming a necessity in one’s day-to-day existence, regardless of age, colour or creed. In this sense, it can also be interpreted as a great democratiser, unlocking new capabilities and possibilities for those across all rungs of society. Tech equates to progress.
The sector therefore – quite understandably – often views itself through the prism of being a force for good, and its potential to transform the world for the better is indisputable. There is, however, one area where it has traditionally failed to live up to those standards: levels of diversity and inclusion within its workforce.
For too long, the tech industry has been viewed as overwhelmingly male and underwhelmingly mixed. In the US, for example, a study published last year by mthree, “Diversity in Tech”, found 68% of business leaders acknowledging that there was a lack of diversity in their tech workforce. The same proportion of tech workers aged 28 and under reported having felt “uncomfortable in a job because of their gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background or neurodevelopmental condition”.
A growing recognition
The need for change is clear, but so too is an increasing awareness on the part of tech leaders to take action. Of the 611 execs surveyed globally for last year’s Tech Monitor’s Technology Leaders Agenda, conducted in partnership with Hexaware, by far the largest proportion (61%) cited the need to improve diversity and inclusion as one of the three greatest challenges within their organisation.
“I think we have certainly seen significant growth in focus across the tech sector in recent years,” agrees Gwen Kolader, Hexaware’s global head of diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI). “Leadership now sees it as something that needs to happen and that things need to change more quickly. If you keep connecting with the same universities, using the same platforms, and consulting the same people, you’re going to keep getting the same results.”
Change is being driven from a number of directions. A growing emphasis on ESG reporting and transparency from stakeholders, partners and legislators; an increasingly socially engaged workforce; and a wider cultural shift both within the media, and society at large, are all seeing employers held to account like never before. Furthermore, the war for tech talent is only becoming fiercer, making the requirement for more progressive hiring strategies not just the right thing to do, but also presenting an undeniable business case. “Overlooking underrepresented groups is simply not a sustainable approach,” cautions Kolader. “And there is still so much unrealised talent out there.”
Traditionally, the diversity issue has been viewed predominantly through the prism of the gender gap. Progress in this sphere has been made, albeit slowly. Deloitte reports that, within large global technology firms, female representation stood at 33% at the end of 2021 – a 2% rise on 2019 figures. However, the proportion of women in technical roles was just 25%, albeit up 2.5% over the same period.
“Tech has certainly long been seen as a man’s world and that’s often still reflected in the dominant language and narrative within the sector,” Kolader acknowledges. “I do think the pace of change is picking up, both within the workforce and among STEM graduates, but speed still needs to increase. There’s still a real requirement for more women in visible, senior leadership roles, for example, demonstrating and creating pathways for more to follow.”
Global versus local
While accelerating those changes must remain a priority, Kolader is keen to stress that tech leaders need to start thinking more about diversity and representation in areas beyond gender, recognising and elevating underrepresented groups from across society.
This poses an interesting challenge for a global enterprise such as Hexaware, operating in an array of markets where diversity and representation challenges and priorities can look quite different. It is a challenge the company’s global head of DEI readily recognises. Gender parity, she says, is an overarching global priority regardless of region, but there also needs to be specific strategies and targets in place for specific markets.
“It’s hugely important that your organisation mirrors the society you serve, but those societies can look quite different,” Kolader begins. “In that sense, concepts of diversity are somewhat fluid. The challenge of representation in India, for example, where a large proportion of our workforce is based, is not the same as in the US – and nor are the priorities in the US necessarily the same as in Europe. There has to be nuance and a rich appreciation and understanding of the markets within which we operate.”
Ironically, while tech faces a significant diversity challenge, technology itself can be a strong catalyst for change, with DEI platforms helping enterprises identify, recruit, develop and advance a more diverse talent pool. “It can be a huge driver,” Kolader agrees. “For instance, we are seeing the increasing use of gamification for hiring, as well as tools that can define the appropriate language to use in attracting the right people to your organisation. There is a lot of innovation happening in this space and people should not be afraid to try new ideas.”
The same applies to the initiatives and programmes one runs internally. Kolader points to the “Rising Women @ Hexaware” as one such example, a global, multi-phase programme creating a new generation of female leaders. The initiative includes an executive leadership programme created by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), an assigned mentor to help bridge any skill gaps and the opportunity to take on a live project of strategic importance.
Driven at all levels
There is also a constant need to communicate progress and see input and engagement across all levels of the business – with many efforts falling under Hexaware’s #WeDifferent initiative.
“We want to enable more conversations around differences and what makes us unique,” says Kolader. “Sharing stories and creating that understanding between people is, I believe, the biggest driver in changing a culture. Being able to imagine oneself in somebody else’s shoes and generating empathy is necessary for building a more inclusive environment.” Hexaware is also in the process of forging closer ties to its local communities around the world, identifying partners to work with on diversity initiatives, and ensuring efforts reflect local concerns.
Engagement is essential, Kolader says, but true success is only possible with complete buy-in at the very top. “The most powerful thing in all these efforts is that I know senior leadership is truly behind it,” she explains. “That provides a great foundation of strength. Without that leadership support, people do not feel empowered to step up, and come with their own suggestions and initiatives. That only happens when there’s trust.”
Creating a diverse, inclusive culture across a workforce of more than 25,000 presents its own set of challenges, but also offers huge opportunity. Success, Kolader argues, can have a transformational impact on recruitment, retention, brand sentiment and, ultimately, the bottom line. While many enterprises have long talked a good talk, they will increasingly be held to account for how much progress is actually being made.
“True, impactful programmes and commitments will boost your reputation in the market and make you a more attractive organisation – not just for specific underrepresented groups, but society as a whole,” says Kolader. “This should be seen as a huge opportunity; getting diversity and inclusivity right in tech benefits everyone.”