Diversity in the technology sector hit headlines again recently when an internal memo from a Software Engineer at Google went viral. The author, who has since been fired, criticised the company’s diversity efforts and attributed the tech industry’s gender imbalance to biological differences between men and women.
Shortly after, Intel released its diversity report, which shows that progress towards its 2020 diversity goal has slowed, with white men still making up 68% of company employees. Intel claims it is nevertheless on track to meet targets but what can be done in the wider industry to tackle these issues?
Most importantly, I think it’s key to consider inclusivity rather than diversity. Ultimately, diversity is an outcome reached through greater inclusivity. As employers it’s too easy to behave in a way which is accidentally exclusionary: if every social event is beer and pizza in a noisy pub after hours, there will always be groups of people who are not able or not inclined to attend.
The London tech scene, similar to the likes of San Francisco, tends to lean towards a culture where those who work long hours and pull off heroics are celebrated, but don’t provide any kind of support for mental and emotional well-being. It’s not surprising that employees from more privileged backgrounds are able to thrive in these environments at the expense of others.
Whilst we often consider diversity in terms of race and gender, there are countless other intersections to think about. Age, sexuality, marital status, parental situation, mental and physical health are all dimensions against which we may unintentionally discriminate.
At our company we’re always conscious and careful to ensure we’re being as inclusive as possible: we permit remote working and flexible work hours, both of which are useful for colleagues who have commitments like caring for children or infirm relatives. We try to ensure we mix up our social events so that there’s as much opportunity for low-key socialising as for evenings at the pub. As a founder, I try to model good work/life balance and taking care of your mental health, such as by taking time out during the work day if things get overwhelming.
The recent Google memo furore shows that there are people in the tech industry who honestly believe that women and people of colour are genetically less capable of working as engineers – a set of assertions based on exceptionally flawed science. Research actually shows that teams with higher levels of gender and racial diversity demonstrate better financial performance. Few individuals are quite as outspoken as the memo’s author James Damore, but these biases are deeply rooted in the minds of many people, and it’s important for us to challenge them where they surface.
Systemic bias leads to people from underrepresented groups quitting technology degrees, or leaving the industry to take alternative careers where they’re able to thrive. It’s easy to point to a “pipeline problem” in terms of our inability to hire outside of the young white male demographic, but in fact our attitudes to gender and race are causing these issues in the pipeline too, without our being aware of it.
Until big tech companies like Google are perceived to be genuinely inclusive, diversity in-balance will continue to be an issue.
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