With clear blue skies and a strong winter sun, Wednesday 14 November 2018 did not feel like Judgement Day, as it had been dubbed by the UK press. But as Oliver Wyman Labs Partner Debs O’Neill and I stood on the Riverside Terrace of the House of Commons, the House was in the process of voting on the draft Brexit agreement.
Debs and I were not there for the Brexit vote, though. We had been invited to the launch of the Inclusive Tech Alliance (ITA), a new membership body in which the UK’s largest tech-focused companies have come together to tackle gender disparity and ethnicity inclusion within the workforce, both at technical and senior levels.
Gender is where the tech sector performs worst, and across the sector, the numbers get worse with seniority. Almost two-thirds of boards in the tech sector, and more than 40% of senior leadership teams, have no female representation at all. Sector averages come out at just 12.6% of board members and 16.6% of senior executives.
Last month the government-commissioned Hampton-Alexander Review reported that five firms in the FTSE 350 had no women directors, and 25% had only one woman in the boardroom. The Hampton-Alexander Review is committed to changing that, and has targeted a ratio of 33% women on boards and in leadership teams across the FTSE 350 companies by 2020.
While gender is a key part of its focus, the launch of the ITA on the 14th coincided with the FT’s publication of its list of 100 Most Influential BAME (black, Asian or minority ethnic) leaders in tech. In the tech sector, 11% of leaders come from BAME backgrounds, compared to 8.5% for the FTSE 100. While that is positive, it is still not representative of the UK as a whole, where 14% of the population has a BAME background. In London, where 300,000 tech jobs are based, things look even worse, with 40% of the population having a BAME background.
Adrian Joseph, who is number one on the top 100 list, and gave the keynote speech on the 14th, summarised this in simpler terms: In British schools, 1 in 4 children is from a BAME background; in the workplace, this halves to 1 in 8; at board level, it halves again to 1 in 16.
Joseph is EY’s Head of AI for financial services and was previously the Chair of the Race Equality Board. Speaking with warmth, intelligence and humour, he encouraged everyone present at the launch, whatever their background, to “...go as far as they can but still be humble and accessible”. And as he pointed out, “hopefully there will be no need for events such as this in the future.”
His view is that candidates from a BAME background are more likely to be from an underprivileged background, and while a high number of them might take STEM subjects at GCSE level, they are less likely to study at a Russell Group university. This contributes to the phenomenon frequently cited by tech companies that diversity is hard to achieve because of the lack of a ‘pipeline’ of talent.
“We need to encourage companies to think outside box,” observed June Angelides, the founder of Mums in Technology, and number six on the list. “In fact we all need to get out of our comfort zones.” Speaking at the launch, Angelides was keen to point out that, despite a common perception, tech is not just coding. There are a wealth of opportunities and we should be encouraging more people, from all backgrounds, to retrain for them.
The host and moderator of the day was Samuel Kasumu, the founder of Inclusive Boards, and a board trustee, charity founder, volunteer, business stakeholder, activist and charismatic speaker. Kasumu speaks passionately about the importance of initiatives such as the ITA, not just for those seeking diversity, but also for the country. “The tech sector contributed close to £200bn to the economy in the last year,” he pointed out, “and its growth rate is 2.5 times faster than the whole economy. Our economy is increasingly reliant on technology, and it is alarming to see so many sections of society being left behind.”
It was to respond to these challenges that Oliver Wyman Labs created its Diversity Working Group. At present, the group is a small collection of people who are hunting out activities and initiatives, and getting involved in conversations. We’re making progress but there is still a huge job in front of us. The Diversity Working Group is not exclusive, and we welcome participation and dialogue from all people within Oliver Wyman Labs.
Kasumu summarised our sentiment perfectly when closing his address. “This is not an ‘I am important’ list; it’s a ‘this is important’ list.”