Boosting DE&I while scaling – four ways to move beyond the talk to action

This blog is part of our Tech In Review: 21-22 report series. Head to the hub to access the reports, insight and analysis. This article is written by MaryLou Costa.

Going into 2022, the UK tech industry is still a far from diverse place. 19% of tech workers are women compared with 49% of the UK workforce overall, and just 22% of tech directors are women – the same it’s been since 2000, according to Tech Nation.

The picture looks even less impressive when you put the spotlight on startups and scaleups, where 57% have no leadership roles at all occupied by women. Shifting the perspective to the Black and minority ethnic (BAME) community, which represent just 8.5% of senior leaders in the tech industry compared with 14% of our society as a whole, and to people with disabilities, which make up 8% of the tech industry compared with 19% of working adults, and you can see a running theme here.

Putting all the charters, targets and mission statements aside, tech startups and scaleups have a unique opportunity to change the industry’s track record by growing as they mean to go on. 

That means examining how they hire and where from, how they pay and how they are leveling the playing field to mitigate the disadvantages certain demographics face, and marketers becoming champions of action.

As Michaela Jeffery-Morrison, co-founder and CEO of the Women in Technology series at Ascend Global Media, puts it:The industry needs to address the reasons minority groups are disadvantaged in the workplace. It is also critical for the future workforce to rebuild systems that they are kept out of in the first place.”

Here are four tangible practices that can help tech companies do that, and ultimately scale in a diverse and inclusive way.

Salary transparency

The UK still reports an overall gender pay gap of around 15%, and this nearly doubles when you look at the pay gap between white British and BAME workers. Being both transparent and consistent on salaries has been proven to cut gender pay gaps in particular, in line with research that shows women are less likely to negotiate a higher salary than men, or negotiate at all, and ethnic minorities feel more deterred than white people to ask for pay rises.

Software company Buffer, for example, publishes its salary formulas and bands, and has been reducing its gender pay gap as a result. And it’s working. It credited salary transparency as the main reason for reducing its gender pay gap to 5.5% in 2021 from 15% in 2020. Being transparent has made the business more accountable and motivated to progress women from lower earning roles, it said in a blog post.

When a salary band is published on a job advertisement, and is attached to all roles in a company, candidates have a good idea of where in the spectrum they can place themselves, rather than both sides thinking that adding a few grand onto their previous salary is going to be a win – and keeping salaries down for people who’ve traditionally been undervalued. This way, negotiation doesn’t have to be a dark art. 

Then when it comes to reviews and pay rises, companies don’t end up just throwing money at whoever demands it the loudest – the ladder to climb, so to speak, is clear and consistent for everyone, creating a more equal workplace.

  1. Rethinking the language and visuals of recruitment 

Rethinking the parameters of a role can open your business up to talented people who would benefit from flexibility. Insurer Zurich, for example, reworded its job vacancies with more inclusive, less aggressive language, and made the leap of advertising all its roles with the possibility of part time and job sharing. As soon as they did that, the number of women in leadership roles in the business jumped by 30%. 

“Zurich knows what it takes to be a leading employer. This is a first class example of how doing the right thing for people isn’t just a business choice, but an essential ingredient of modern leadership,” says Vanella Jackson, global CEO of market research and insight agency Hall & Partners.

Challenger bank Monzo, meanwhile, has also cut its gender pay gap from 20% to 4% by implementing tangible changes like ensuring balanced shortlists and incremental shifts at manager and individual level.

It’s one of the reasons chief operating officer Sujata Bhatia joined in June last year, with an ambition to drive that 4% right down to zero as part of Monzo’s Women in Finance Charter commitment, which also includes a target to increase its proportion of female board members to 40% by 2020 – it’s now 44%.

When I joined, I asked our machine learning lead why his team was so diverse. He had done something as simple as posting a picture of a team with diverse faces on LinkedIn, and he then saw an amazing diverse pipeline of people coming through the door,” says Bhatia.

  1. And rethinking recruitment pathways 

Looking beyond their immediate networks to unearth underrepresented talent is how Saas giant Salesforce and advertising industry heavyweight Ogilvy plan to build more diverse organisations.

Salesforce’s Trailhead online training programme is available to anyone, and the company makes a concerted effort to work with schools, universities, representative organisations, as well as return to work and apprenticeship schemes, to reach underrepresented groups. They’re opening up careers in technology to people that might have otherwise faced barriers, while also diversifying their own talent pipeline. 

“We launched Trailhead to democratise digital learning, taking participants from a low-level of technical knowledge to a Salesforce role in as little as six months,” says Stuart Mills, VP, Trailhead & Ecosystem EMEA, Salesforce.

“We’ve also been working with organisations that help us tap into talent for whom flexibility is a priority. Increasing diversity in tech is one of the biggest opportunities we have to solve the global skills challenge. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Research has shown that companies that invest in equality — such as diversity programs and equal pay — and lead with these values, have a competitive advantage over those who do not.”

  1. Marketers as champions of action

As Richard Pash, chief customer officer at Zurich UK, states: “This is about walking the walk.

Marketers are in the unique position of putting DE&I at the heart of a brand’s purpose, and be the missing link between mission and action.

Pash references the media campaign to share the company’s success in attracting more senior female hires through its new approach to recruiting. 

“We achieved widespread national media coverage and were endorsed by key social media influencers. Creating media ‘noise’ around these initiatives is crucial as this is one of the key conduits to advocacy. Post campaign analysis showed that one in five people were aware of the campaign which was an amazing outcome for us. It’s also a great way to encourage other brands to up their game, says Pash.

However, he’s keen to add a “strong health warning” to marketers inspired by Zurich’s rocketing brand reputation: “Authenticity is key. These initiatives must be driven from the heart of the business, not simply for media exposure.”

And that’s perhaps where marketers can make the biggest difference.

MaryLou Costa is a freelance writer covering the future of work, innovation, technology and sustainability. She has written for The Times, WorkLife, Business Insider, Stylist, The Evening Standard and others, plus she has appeared on Times Radio, BBC and Sky News. 

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