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18 Feb 2019

The need for diversity in the tech industry has never been greater

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Melina Jacovou, CEO at Propel, considers why companies need to do more in order to embrace diversity

Let’s face facts. Britain’s tech industry has failed in its efforts to truly embrace diversity. This failure is harming its future growth and it’s time for the industry to raise its game.

True diversity, together with company culture and values, training and employee wellbeing, are as or more important to the talent we need to drive the future of the industry than salary alone – and diversity in itself is today critically important to tech companies’ bottom line.

Yet the industry leaders I speak to bemoan a lack of action and say that the tech sector is falling behind other industries in this crucial respect.

But don’t just take my word for it. I’ve spent the past few months talking to some of the leading CEOs, founders and VCs in the tech sector, including Baroness Martha Lane Fox, Monzo CEO Tom Blomfield and Eileen Burbidge, partner at Passion Capital among many more. and diversity – or lack of – was a constant cause of concern.

Kate Burns, venture partner at Hambro Perks and a former Google, Bebo and AOL chief, believes “we are still unfortunately a long way from solving the diversity in our industry and it’s doing huge harm”.

Mike Turner, one of the foremost legal advisers in European and transatlantic tech equity fundraisings and M&A, told me that while you’d expect, politically and culturally, tech companies would naturally embrace diversity, they were failing dismally. He called for both founders and investors to accept a higher level of responsibility for driving change.

The voices of Digital Nation

Theirs are but two voices included in our inaugural Digital Nation: Propel’s Talent Manifesto, based on in-depth interviews with thirteen industry leaders including Monzo CEO Tom Blomfield OBE, Passion Capital partner Eileen Burbridge MBE, and Baroness Martha Lane Fox.

Baroness Lane Fox said her role as a chair or board member is “to challenge, to ensure the right questions are being asked and to make sure that we have the broadest view of diversity, making the biggest inroads into inclusion that we possibly can”.

Blomfield is also aware that diversity must be tackled from the top. Monzo publishes an annual report on diversity, which is updated every six months. Gender stats at the last count were around 65/35 male to female, with around 27% of the workforce identifying as LGBT-plus.

Despite above-average stats Blomfield forthrightly admits there’s still a long way to go: “Assuming we’re done is very dangerous. I think that as a straight, white, privileged Oxford educated man I have to realise that my experience of this is probably not the uniform experience.”

It’s this sort of honesty that I find so inspiring. It’s crucial the leaders of the tech companies shaping our world are brutally honest and even more brutally self-critical of their own continued efforts to improve diversity if we’re ever going to see true systemic change.

TechHub CEO Elizabeth Varley put it equally bluntly, highlighting that as an industry, we’re all very good at hiring people like us. “We’re good at hiring through the network effect and that means there’s often a great cultural fit in teams but we miss out on diversity and diverse views,” she said.

Another issue is that startups and scaleups don’t have the luxury or time to recruit for diversity, something we see time and time again when helping tech companies attract the right talent. This was something that Blippar co-founder Jessica Butcher also highlighted. “[Fast-growing businesses] need to get the very best people they can, as quickly as they can and be as meritocratic as they can when it comes to making these decisions,” she said.

And just hiring for diversity is not enough, said Claude Silver, VaynerMedia’s first chief heart officer. Her thoughts on diversity really struck home, as they echo how I’ve always built my own business. From LGBTQ to conditions like dyslexia, your talent want to know that the company they spend most of their life in is welcoming to them and will ensure they’re both physically and emotionally safe.

Another core thread through so many of my conversations with these inspirational leaders was that diversity had to be seen in the broadest terms, where variety in socio-economic background was equally important. In fact, one of the most commonly-cited attributes for the best talent was attitude. If you’ve got the right attitude, we can train you for the rest was the clarion call.

I’m not surprised. Company culture is today the single most important factor behind the success of our best tech companies and it’s impossible to build a truly authentic culture without a truly diverse workforce.

Digital Nation examined the attitudes and motivations towards work by surveying those working in the sector and found a staggering 62% think a company’s culture and values are equally as important as pay when it comes to choosing a job.

With the war for talent never fiercer, the need for diversity has never been greater nor the rewards higher. A company culture that embeds diversity into its DNA is perhaps the most important factor behind creating a truly world-beating company.

*This article first appeared on UKTN.

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