Originally posted on the Financial Times
The tech industry has one of the biggest issues with the diversity of any sector, with only 15% of the tech workforce from diverse ethnic backgrounds and gender diversity currently sitting at 17%, compared to 49% for all other jobs.
With it shown that companies with gender and ethnically diverse workforces not only outperform their competitors financially, but also enjoy improved motivation, innovation, and talent retention, there is really no reason for businesses not to embrace diversity on their tech teams at all levels.
But what exactly is behind this persistent problem?
While there is certainly more work to be done to encourage a wider variety of people to consider a career in tech in the first place, we also need to make sure that unconscious bias isn’t causing businesses only to hire candidates that fit a particular mould. Failing to do so will make it impossible to successfully tackle the issue.
With this in mind, employers need to ensure they are attracting exciting talent from a range of sources and creating an environment in which they can thrive, regardless of who they are or where they have come from.
For some of the UK’s largest and best-known companies, competition for entry-level roles and graduate schemes in particular, can be extremely fierce. As a result, they can afford to be extremely selective about the applicants they accept.
This has left many hiring a disproportionate number of candidates from more prestigious schools or universities, labouring under the false impression that they will automatically be the best qualified.
In a recent mthree survey, we found that 40% of insurance, financial services, life sciences and pharma businesses struggle to recruit diverse entry-level tech talent. Yet a third of them only hire graduates from top universities and another quarter are more likely to hire graduates from top universities.
In order to achieve greater diversity, businesses must actively work to widen their talent pool. They should consider partnering with less obvious universities, attending a greater number of university job fairs, as well as paying more attention to job fairs and other events aimed at non-graduates. Apprenticeship schemes can also be a brilliant way to tap into a rich seam of enthusiastic, diverse junior talent that may otherwise have been overlooked.
When working with recruitment consultancies or talent providers, it is vital that businesses only use those that share their attitude and values when it comes to diversity, and have their own comprehensive strategies in place to ensure inclusivity.
However, these steps will only make a difference if employers also take a hard look at their hiring processes at the same time.
Unconscious bias can be a common issue when hiring at all levels. If left unchecked, assumptions are often made about candidates based on factors such as their age, gender, or background, which can result in companies missing out on highly qualified talent.
However, this can prove particularly problematic when it comes to filling entry-level roles. Young people at the start of their careers have limited relevant work experience, meaning that other aspects of their CV – such as the university they attended – can end up carrying more weight.
Anonymising CVs is therefore one of the most effective ways of ensuring that those best-qualified for the role are invited to interview. Removing all potentially identifying information, such as name, age, and educational background makes it impossible for recruiters or hiring managers to make subconscious judgements about an applicant.
While blind CVs are invaluable when it comes to putting together more diverse candidate shortlists, they don’t protect potential employees from being unfairly judged – however unintentionally - at the interview stage. Anti-bias training can be highly effective, giving managers the tools to identify where their own unconscious biases may lie, helping them to be as objective about the process as possible.
Importantly, unconscious bias doesn’t end with recruitment. Businesses must also recognise that employees from different backgrounds may require different support to ensure their professional and personal development. This is crucial when it comes to fostering an inclusive and welcoming company culture – key to high staff retention rates.
Recruiting diverse junior tech talent pays multiple dividends, but it’s not enough for businesses to be aware of the issue. Only by taking proactive steps to overhaul their recruitment processes will they be able to achieve greater diversity in a truly sustainable way.