Signing tech talent charter will signal D&I ambition

Out-Law Analysis | 22 Jan 2020 | 4:21 pm | 4 min. read

More technology companies should become signatories to the UK's Tech Talent Charter as an outward sign of their commitment towards improving workforce diversity and inclusion (D&I).

By visibly committing to improving diversity in the tech sector, employers will be in a position to drive real change and build a network with others in the sector through which they may exchange experiences and ideas and share resources. 

Achieving diversity and fostering an inclusive workplace culture can help make technology companies a more attractive place to work, and address the risk of 'group think' that arises where people from the same type of backgrounds and with similar views and perspectives dominate discussion and decision making. It can also help them address the digital skills gap.

The Tech Talent Charter

The Tech Talent Charter (TTC) currently represents 7.7% of the entire UK tech workforce across tech and non-tech sectors.

Amy Hextell

Pinsent Masons

Given the opportunity the sector presents for contributing to the UK economy, signing up to the TTC is an important and visible signal from an employer that diversity matters to them. 

Businesses that sign up to the TTC commit to a series of pledges aimed at improving the diversity of people performing technology-related jobs. The commitments include having employment policies and practices in place to improve diversity and inclusion, and to include at least one woman on the shortlist for technology jobs wherever possible and to develop, share and implement best practice.

A number of major organisations are already signatories, including the BBC, BT, Fujitsu, Microsoft, RBS and Sky.

The TTC carries out an annual benchmarking exercise charting progress. The results from the most recent benchmarking were detailed in the TTC's recent 'Diversity in Tech 2019' report.

According to that report, TTC signatories typically perform better on gender diversity than the UK average. Women represent 24.1% of technical roles within the workforce of TTC signatories, whereas the British Computer Society (BCS), the Chartered Institute for IT, has estimated that just 16% of IT specialists in the UK workforce during 2018 were female.

The TTC said that 65% of signatories have developed a D&I strategy, and a further 25% of members plan to establish one in 2020.

The report also highlighted that signatories that have set a target for the number of women on shortlists are more likely to be above the national average for the number of women they employ in technical roles. "This suggests that having a target for women is correlated with higher representation of women," it said. More than half of TTC signatories plan to bring in such targets for 2020 or already have them in place, the report said.

Women in tech

There is such a significant skills gap that to ignore the gender diversity problem would be a huge mistake leading to employers missing out on the very best talent. However, despite attempts to encourage women and girls to get into tech at an early age, research suggests that just 10% of A-level computer science students are female.

The tech sector has a lot to offer female candidates – the very nature of the sector often means that work can be performed flexibly, and research suggests that one of the things women value most in their careers is the ability to see their work having a wider impact and making the world a better place. The tech sector presents a great opportunity for women in this respect.

However, challenges remain.

The TTC said that there are "potentially systemic, cultural or inclusion issues that may be affecting diversity" for software businesses and other companies in the IT and services sector. It said "external perception issues" may alternatively apply in those industries. It said "more work is needed to create and maintain an inclusive culture in certain tech industries", and highlighted the importance of inclusion to improving diversity.

Issues of pay also persist. Our analysis of gender pay gap (GPG) data submitted by UK employers has found that the median GPG in the information and communication sector fell from 23% in 2018 to 17.67% last year. Despite that progress, however, the sector has the fourth highest GPG across all industries for which data was collected. The sectors with the biggest GPGs are construction (24%), finance and insurance (22%), and education (20%).

A broader focus on diversity and inclusion

While much of the focus of the TTC's work to-date has been conducted through the prism of gender diversity, the TTC said its focus is to expand into identifying and sharing "best practices on ethnicity, age, disability, social inclusion, mental health, neurodiversity, and wider forms of intersectional diversity".

This is a positive step that recognises that a holistic approach to D&I is needed – not just gender diversity improvements – to ready technology companies for the opportunities ahead.

The UK is already a strong market for tech – recent figures from Tech Nation and Dealroom revealed that venture capital (VC) investment in UK tech reached a record high of £10.1 billion, which accounts for about one third of the total VC tech investment in Europe in 2019. The research also found that the UK is producing twice as many unicorns – billion-dollar value digital companies – as Germany and three times as many as France. 

The UK government has identified technology as having a central role to play in the development of the country's economy post-Brexit. This was affirmed recently when digital secretary Nicky Morgan outlined "five key principles" that will guide the UK government towards achieving its vision of "a thriving economy, driven by world-leading technology, that works to the benefit of all citizens".

While signing up to the TTC is no silver bullet to the challenges of achieving diversity in tech, it may put companies in a better position to educate the population about their sector and the opportunities available within it. Given the opportunity the sector presents for contributing to the UK economy, signing up to the TTC is an important and visible signal from an employer that diversity matters to them.

Amy Hextell is an employment law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.