Recently, on September 25th, 2019, I attended one of my favourite events of the year: the annual tech diversity event co-hosted by Computer Weekly and Mortimer Spinks (now rebranded as Spinks).
The theme of this year’s event - held at the Wellcome Trust, London - was ‘Embracing diversity and inclusion: making tech the best place to work’. The agenda included keynote talks by industry leaders, panel discussions, and workshops, and culminated in the announcement of this year’s Most Influential Woman in UK Tech award.
Once again, I was really inspired by the speakers and attendees who make this such a positive and important event to attend. In fact, one of the hosts, Bryan Glick of Computer Weekly, said it is his favourite tech event of the year.
The keynote talks were delivered by the following speakers:
- Debbie Forster, CEO Tech Talent Charter
- Geoff Thompson, Founder and Executive Chair of the Youth Charter
- Suki Fuller, Founder and Analytical Storyteller at Miribure
- Dawn Duhaney, Product Manager (Data Labs) at Wellcome Trust
There were panel discussions on these topics:
- How can we build inclusion for everyone? Hosted by Clare McDonald of Computer Weekly.
- Inclusive cultures: Making mental wellbeing a priority in Tech. Hosted by Dania Lyons of Mortimer Spinks.
And these were the workshop topics:
- Giving Career Returners and Retrainers the WISE advantage (Computer Weekly / WISE).
- Autistic talent in your team: what do you do next? (Auticon / Mortimer Spinks)
- Is technology that accessible? (The Wellcome Trust)
(See the end of this article for details of the panel and workshop hosts.)
The key takeaways I gained over the course of the day were as follows.
Diversity and company culture
- Studies have shown that productivity is improved by 45% when IT projects are delivered by a diverse team. It makes business sense to have diverse teams.
- It is important to get the CEO of a company to make real change. Get the buy-in from the CEO and others will follow their lead. This is key to implementation of an inclusion programme.
- The problem is power, not the pipeline. Leaders often give leadership roles to people who look like them. This has the result that the demographic of the leadership at companies never changes and diversity is hugely limited.
- In order to drive growth, everyone - especially leaders - needs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Connect and recruit people unlike yourself. If you have a degree of discomfort, this signals that you are doing things the right way in terms of being more inclusive and bringing people from different backgrounds into the organisation.
Recruitment and diversity
- Companies need to do much more to be accessible. They can adapt their recruitment processes, their offices and their onboarding programs to make things easier for people with disabilities, autism and mental health issues, among others. There is a huge skills gap and we are missing so many hugely talented people because we do not provide them with an environment that makes them feel welcome.
- Our unconscious bias is so ingrained when hiring that it can be difficult to be aware of it. We should use IT systems to facilitate improved hiring (using AI, for example). We need to be harsh on these systems and kind to people (in the hiring process, for example).
- When you are interviewing candidates for roles, have a mixed panel to diversify biases.
- Transparency is the fastest route to equality (salaries, who has been promoted, and so on). Openness is good for diversity.
- It’s important to create ethical tech. A diverse team that cares about ethics in building products results in better solutions for a wider range of users.
Wellbeing and mental health
- Developers have a burnout rate of just 15 months. This is due to the immense stress and lack of support in the industry.
- Wellbeing is not just a HR issue. Wellbeing programmes must underpin everything in the company and should be something that all employees buy into.
- The stigma of stress and mental health issues means that most people never openly discuss these types of illnesses with their managers. In fact, due to this stigma, 95% of people who take time off sick due to stress, use a different reason when they phone in sick to their manager.
- Teams should regularly ‘check in’ with each other to provide regular mutual support. One excellent idea to avoid people having to state their problem publicly to their colleagues is to have a regular stand-up meeting. In this meeting, everyone checks in and says what type of animal or fruit they are today. For example: “today I am a bruised peach” or “today I am a shiny apple”! This lets your colleagues know in a gentle way that you need support.
The day ended with a countdown of the 50 women who made it onto the shortlist of the Most Influential Women in UK Technology for 2019. The winner this year is the immensely talented Debbie Forster MBE.
Debbie runs the Tech Talent Charter, a UK not-for-profit organisation that works with companies to close the gender gap in the UK tech sector. Debbie’s tireless campaigning and ability to bring people together to drive equality and greater opportunities in technology roles make her an inspiring leader to many (including myself!) and a very worthy winner of this accolade. Congratulations Debbie!
The event was organised by Computer Weekly and Mortimer Spinks (now Spinks) and hosted at Wellcome Trust.
To find out more about the event, follow #CWWit50 and #SpinksInclusion on Twitter.