Error: BEA9911B.171019033927.ARM-SCPRODCD-B2.1.0.6479.24043)

Diversity Tech Blog

What we learned from Diversity in Tech 2017

Lorien recently attended Diversity in Tech 2017, the UK’s first full-bodied conference dedicated to increasing diversity in the fastest growing sector in our economy. The day was jam-packed with inspirational speakers, empowering messages and heated debate over how to tackle one of the most business-critical issues to date. We took a lot away from the event, including some ideas of how to improve diversity for both our own workforce and our clients. Here’s our round-up of some of the strongest messages of the day.

Don’t just recruit people that are different, allow them to be different 

Pamela Hutchinson, Bloomberg

Equity or equality; quantity or quality; inclusion or assimilation – these were the debates of the day. The dangers of setting mathematically balanced ‘tick-box’ diversity agendas and hiring to represent instead of to engage was discussed, with the same conclusion: if you’re inviting diversity into the business, make sure you’re using it properly. This means not only fulfilling a quota but also ensuring that that diversity is given the opportunity to engage and innovate. 

There were some interesting techniques around how to do this, including Emily Hall-Strutt’s (Ministry of Justice Digital & Technology) ‘amplify’ experiment, which saw women and men repeating ideas voiced by women and crediting them during board discussions and meetings. This was based on an experiment which revealed that women’s opinions often went unheard until a man expressed a similar view. Hall-Strutt’s ‘amplify’ programme overwrote this bias, enabling women to be included in the discussion. Other suggestions included regular meetings designed to share different perspectives and designated office spaces/events where people are encouraged to celebrate what makes them unique. 

Lesson #1: Don’t forget the ‘inclusion’ part of ‘Diversity and Inclusion’. If you aren’t encouraging people to share different experiences and opinions or to ‘think outside the box’ then you aren’t getting the true value of a diverse workforce.

Diversity is about connecting with someone with unconditional positive regard

Brajesh Bajpai, Vodafone

Bajpai focused on the importance of viewing diversity as an important human interaction that engenders understanding and compassion. He cited an example of a three hour interview he once held in the middle-east between his female colleague, her husband, and a translator. He said it was an incredibly insightful conversation, and despite the apparent barriers – cultural and linguistic – he was able to gather information into a market he never would have had without her help. In response, he altered his marketing strategy and profits skyrocketed. This approach of sincerity and listening to other experiences outside his own enabled Bajpai to gain insight into a new perspective and directly impact his business. 

Lesson #2: It is important to embrace diversity as an opportunity to connect and gain new perspectives. Viewing diversity as a positive experience instead of a HR exercise is the first step forward.        

Set goals, not targets

Emily Hall Strutt, Ministry of Justice & Technology

Anyone embarking on a diversity programme will be familiar with the well-intentioned target of >50% of the team being made up of <insert diverse minority group>. However, Strutt was quick to point out that this could lead organisations to focus on quantity over quality, to continue to hire in the same model if not the same image (e.g. golden skirts) and to become reductive by believing that 50% is representative of an entire subsection of humanity. It also risks provoking that on-going debate of hiring the best person for the job. Instead, focus on shifting workplace culture in order to achieve objectives. 

This was later echoed by James Stanbridge, the newly appointed VP, Product Management of Oracle who stated that diversity was “about equity, not equality”. That’s to say: it’s less about having a numerically balanced team and more about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to become part of the conversation. 

Lesson #3: Setting explicit targets and headcounts does not necessarily result in diversity.

Diversity is meaningless if we don’t put it into words, and if we’re afraid to talk about it 

Agnes Aszodi, Gumtree

Acknowledgement was another clear theme of the day. Pamela Hutchinson of Bloomberg recommended ‘courageous conversations’ as a way to transcend cultural differences and ask those questions we might not want to ask. Facing our differences head on, she argued, would foster understanding and help to highlight similarities. Aszodi, meanwhile, said it was important for us to realise our natural biases in order to tackle them. She pointed out that humans were hardwired to have an element of bias that could manifest in the workplace, including false-consensus bias, status quo bias, in-group favouritism and stereotyping. Some of the ways around this include driving impartiality into process, such as through unconscious bias training or gender-neutral job descriptions.

Lesson #4: It’s important that we face the tough questions and address biases – no matter how implicit – head on. Where bias cannot be escaped, look to a transparent process to lead the way. 

It’s not a business case, it’s a human case

Brajesh Bajpal, Vodafone
We thought we’d finish on a subject that unwittingly became the theme of the conference – are we still having to justify the business case for diversity, and if so, why? Inspired by Bajpai’s presentation (‘A Successful Global Marketing Campaign is Impossible Without Diverse Thought), this question continued into panel discussions and following presentations. The research is overwhelmingly clear; businesses perform significantly better when there is a diverse workforce in place, including at the bottom line. A famous McKinsey and Company report showed that gender and ethnically diverse companies financially outperformed their non-gender and non-ethnically diverse counterparts by 15% and 35% respectively, making the business case argument moot. 

Yet, diversity champions around the globe are still trying to convince businesses of the benefit of diversity by providing proof of measurable, financial return. And with the vast majority of board-level decision makers in tech falling into the criteria of ‘straight, middle age white males’, it seems that those with direct influence over diversity are those most likely to be in the firing line. If we continue to demand a business case, the advocacy of diversity is questioned; the road will become even longer and even harder and every single one of us will suffer the consequences. 

Lesson #5:
A business case for diversity is redundant. For as long as we argue that it isn’t, we will only ever be taking two steps forward and one step back. The difficult conversations start here. However, if you’re still in doubt, here’s a link to McKinsey’s research on why diversity matters and if that doesn’t convince you – try your favourite search engine – the results are overwhelming.  
Bryony Kelly headshot

Bryony Kelly

Bid and Content Executive