Let’s talk diversity (and not just for Black History Month).

Published: 30 October 2020

Author: Niyonu Agana-Burke

Category:

Tomorrow marks the last day of Black History Month in the UK. On social media, we have been sharing some of the black leaders in technology who have inspired our leadership team. While this programme of activity was befitting a month of remembrance and historic celebration, we found that there are still far too many black tech professionals hailed as the first or only to achieve something, even in the last decade.

For the rest of the year, we will be sharing a series of blog posts to the themes of diversity and representation.

We all know that representation matters. Time and time again, it has been shown to be one of the barriers to entry in fields that are found to be lacking in diversity. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is a quote attributed to Marian Wright Edelman, American civil rights activist and is often called upon in conversations about the importance of diverse representation. Whilst it’s true that there are many black and minority ethnic success stories who have defied this adage to become a ‘first’ themselves. It’s also true that in almost many cases, they were witness to someone in a related field who helped expand their idea of what was possible. For Gerald A Lawson, who invented video game cartridges in the 1970s, his aspirations were shaped by George Washington Carver becoming a respected inventor and educator in the 1930s-40s. Crucially though, that quote is a product of its time. A time where minority ethnic communities were proactively segregated (in the US), women were still largely absent from the workplace and too little consideration was given do neurodiverse or disabled professionals. In a time when (ostensibly at least) equality is assured, is representation still so important?

Arguably representation is more important today than ever before. Through social media and businesses pushing their digital presence, we all know much more about businesses we interact with, be it as consumers or employees. Fifty years ago, happening upon someone that looks like you, having achieved something you had never considered, would inevitably expand your horizons. Today, with so much information so widely accessible, the reverse is true. Realising that there are no board members that look like you or no CEOs with your social background might change your perspective for the worse. An anecdotal example I often draw for is the experience of telling a 12-year-old that Barack Obama was the first black President in the US. The reaction? Not awe or inspiration, but horror, “what so there has never been another black President? What about in the UK?”

Today’s world is smaller than ever before, corporations are more transparent, and information is everywhere, all of the time. In this world, representation isn’t just inspirational, it is fundamental.

The technology industry is known to struggle with diversity. A challenge that is often attributed to education, because we need more qualified candidates entering the tech industry to achieve anything resembling representation. Yet it would be dangerous to suggest this is the only issue, or that the lack of diverse tech graduates exists in a vacuum.

All of these are issues we will explore in the coming weeks. We would love to hear your thoughts about the challenges and opportunities around diversity and representation in technology. Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

Did you know?

  • Only 15% of the tech workforce are from BAME backgrounds in the UK
  • Gender diversity is currently at 19% (compared to 49% in the UK workforce)
  • Research from the National Autistic Society found that just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time work and of those who weren’t, 77% wanted to be.
  • 19% of working age adults are disabled and disabled people are more than two times as likely to be unemployed as people without a disability.
  • Tech is contributing around £200 billion economy
  • £4 billion is spent each year on staff turnover, unfair treatment is the highest cause of this
  • Employment in the digital tech economy increased by 40% between 2017 and 2019, to 2.93m people

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