I have found myself asking more and more if we are actually making any real strides with diversity and inclusion across workplaces in the UK or if we are just paying lip-service to such a vital area. 

I enjoyed listening to Jacqueline De Rojas at #EIE20 this year, but the stats she provided were a more than a little troubling. Females make up 46% of the UK workforce and yet only 17% in the UK tech sector.

What was more concerning were the examples she gave of the tech that is being developed by a certain demographic (middle-aged, white males) that could have real-life consequences. A doctor unable to access female changing facilities at the gym because those who had developed the algorithm had coded the term doctor as a male title.

I had also signed up for the Startup Grind event, hosted by Nick from Adopt An Intern around diversity and inclusion. While the discussion was fascinating and inspiring, I was left wondering “why are we still asking the same questions?” 

Are CDO’s just window dressing?

While to some, it might seem like progress has been made. The figures don’t lie. 

Just five per cent of leadership in the UK tech sector are female, and only four per cent of the entire tech workforce is black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME).

These figures and the, often glacial pace of change is bringing the role of Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) under some scrutiny, perhaps highlighting a broader issue around the commitment business have in this space. 

LinkedIn reported only a 17% increase in the number of CDO’s being employed in 2020 compared with 2015. However, this number rose 100% following the start of Black Lives Matter protests. This reactionary approach seems to highlight the main issue, in that diversity and inclusion is viewed as something business should do, instead of a path they must take.

Many larger companies, including some of the tech giants who you would assume, would have a firm grasp on this, still have a way to go. Black employees at Facebook crept up from 3.0% to 3.8% in the past six years. 

The strange thing is, the evidence for a more diverse workforce and leadership team is pretty conclusive. Companies with more than 30 per cent female executives would often outperform their counterparts who only had between 10-30%. 

Those companies who have a better balance of ethnic and cultural diversity posted, on average, a 36 per cent increase in profitability. 

Why are we not making progress?

So what is it that is stemming the tide of progress? Why are we not getting the balance our society demands? 

Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a tremendous amount of insight available into the motivations of senior executives in these companies that aren’t redressing the diversity balance. 

What is clear, though, is that the retention of individuals from a BAME background, particularly within the tech sector, is low. 

The feeling is that this is down to 

“work cultures and stereotyping as well as pay and a lack of opportunity”. 

PWC released figures which highlighted that ethnically diverse employees were paid 13 per cent less than their counterparts, and the bonus gap was a whopping 35 per cent. 

How do we make a change?

From the recent McKinsey report, there is some good practice amongst some high performing businesses. 

It seems there is a need to take affirmative action. The appointment of a CDO who cannot affect change, not through a lack of desire but as a result of organisational constraints is not a solution. There needs to be actual buy-in from senior leadership, CEO down, and they need to take ownership of the outcomes.  

Leaders in the business also need to be accountable. They need to lead from the front and live the values. They need to show a transparent, zero-tolerance approach to tackling any bias and discrimination and actively support a diversity of thought. 

Only then will the influence and impact of a good Chief Diversity Officer be noticed, and change will start to happen at a more acceptable pace.

Ewan Anderson

Ewan Anderson is Associate Marketing Director for Eden Scott and TalentSpark. He has a wealth of marketing experience delivering successful strategies for both B2B and B2C businesses.

Ewan is also the Vice Chair of Communications for CIM Scotland and a Non-Exec Board Member for Marketing for Snowsport Scotland.