On Wednesday 14 July, PICTFOR hosted our Annual Diversity and Inclusion Rally, focused on Pro-tech, Pro-innovation Pro-diversity: How can greater accountability help the sector and the world?
We were delighted to hear from Shadow Science, Research and Digital Minister, Chi Onwurah MP and the President of CBI, Lord Bilimoria. We then began our rally, hearing insights on diversity and inclusion from speakers across the tech community. These speakers included Charlie Brooks, Co-founder of iampro, Sally Freeman, Co-founder of DevelopHER, Professor Sue Black OBE, Principal Investigator at TechUPWomen, Ashleigh Monagle, Digital Inclusion Lead at OpenUK, Professor Dorothy Monekosso, CTO at More Life UK, Jennifer Calland, TechUPWomen Alumna, Nicola Martin, Head Of Quality at Adarga, Claire Hughes, Co-Founder of Pluto, Amber Rosier, Senior Manager at Deloitte, Muma Sinkala, TechUPWomen Alumna and Charlene Hunter, Founder of Coding Black Females.
Please see below for minutes of the session. You can catch up on the event in full, here.
- Ivana Bartoletti began proceedings by reminding everyone how important technology has been during the pandemic, bringing people closer together, helping them to work and connect with colleagues, friends and family. Ivana warned, however, that the pandemic has also demonstrated the widening digital divide, adding that it is more important than ever to prioritise inclusion in responsible technology and innovation. She added that AI is an area where diversity and inclusion is of upmost importance, as biased algorithms carry the risk of discrimination and can hardwire inequalities into the future of tech . She finished by stating that you cannot be pro-tech and innovation if you are not pro-diversity and inclusion.
- Chi Onwurah MP said that she thought that technology and politics are the two great engines of progress in society, as both can democratise and enable. She then reminded everyone that tech is not a naturally occurring part of the world, and that we have created and developed it and so are able to shape its impact on the world. She said that tech has a fantastic capacity to empower people, but that it was currently failing to do this in a number of ways and remained the preserve of a narrow demographic. She went on to describe how so many of the challenges that society faces have STEM at their heart and because of this we need “engineers for a new age”, where engineers recognise ethics and not just equations. She then discussed tech’s role in helping to tackle climate change, which she justified as a practical business and economic choice, as well as a moral issue.
- Lord Bilimoria spoke about the glass ceiling that he faced when he first moved to the UK to study, and how today there are far more opportunities for minorities to reach the top. He gave the example of the growing number of parliamentarians from minority backgrounds, even within the cabinet, but said that the UK still has some way to go to reach an inclusive and representative parliamentary system. He spoke about his background in business and how having a diverse workforce helped him and his colleagues to innovate at speed. He noted that young people today care about two main things: climate change and diversity, before quoting surveys showing that diversity drives innovation in businesses and creates a more rewarding working environment. Lord Bilimoria detailed how the pandemic had greatly increased tech adoption, which in turn has highlighted major issues such as digital poverty, literacy and access. He then addressed the diversity gap in the tech industry and promoted the Change the Race ratio initiative as one possible solution. He concluded by noting that it is a moral imperative that ethnic minorities are represented at all levels of UK companies and that they receive the same opportunities to rise to the top as everyone else.
- Charlie Brooks explained the issues facing the creative industries, with constant cuts, “elitist and unaffordable training” and geographic constraints limiting the ability for young people to get the coaching they need to break into the industry. She said iampro aimed to solve this by offering digital coaching, advice and talks to help ease disadvantaged young people’s journeys into the industry, and offering them opportunities they wouldn’t normally be exposed to. She closed by saying that it was important that everyone’s voice is heard and that everyone’s story is told.
- Sally Freeman spoke about how the pandemic has led to more people in the DevelopHER community working harder than ever before, as the surge in the use of digital has necessitated their tech skills. She explained how their community has created new agile ways of working in many areas such as MedTech, AI, cyber security, communications, and how her company has pivoted more virtual events support their community better. She finished by saying that going forward she wanted to see greater diversity in AI and tech so that the algorithms we use in the future become more diverse.
- Sue Black discussed her background before coming into the tech industry and how this led her to setup the UK’s first network for women in tech. She described her projects promoting women in tech, with her most recent being TechUPWomen which aims to diversify the tech sector’s workforce. She closed her remarks by highlighting her research centre at the University of Durham focused on bias in AI, which is bringing together industry government and academia to solve problems in AI.
- Ashleigh Monagle spoke about OpenUK and the three pillars of community, legal and policy, and learning that it was focused on. She remarked on the power of openness to promote diversity through the democratisation of tech, which removes exclusivity and creates fairness. She noted that this transparency doesn’t just develop careers, but enables people to choose what they want from their tech. She then detailed some of Open UK’s current initiatives and how they helped to change rhetoric when it came to togetherness, addressing digital inclusion and creating a supportive ecosystem to create more systemic, strategic and sustainable solutions.
- Dorothy Monekosso spoke about the challenge of retaining women who enter tech roles and courses. She discussed her work in HealthTech where she tries to encourage and support young women to think about careers in the field, as well her work as an adviser on an Inclusion Matters project funded by the research council, where they looked at the issue of inclusion from a top-down perspective, encouraging younger researchers to mentor the senior university management. She closed by noting that you will never be able to address the diversification of entrants into the industry if you don’t listen to the diverse young people who are trying to get these roles.
- Jennifer Calland began by saying that when you build for inclusion, you build for everyone. She then went on to describe her personal experience in the tech sector, whereby she found herself unable to get back into the industry after some time off caring for her children. She said this was often the case for people of colour, the disabled and in particular women. She explained how TechUPWomen paved the path for her to return to a career, and how they target women from disadvantaged backgrounds whose diverse voices and experiences the tech sector often misses.
- Nicola Martin discussed her own tech journey, explaining how her experience as a contractor lead her to notice how contract teams were often very diverse, yet permanent engineering staff had much less diversity. She said that the reason for this was often that female contractors would leave to have children and then not return to their job. She said that as someone who left to have children and then came back into the tech industry in a permanent role, the lack of diversity was very visible, which in turn lead to her passion for helping organisations to support women in STEM and tech.
- Claire Hughes spoke from a business and commercial perspective, explaining how only one out of seven applications for Innovate UK funding are from women, with this figure decreasing further during the pandemic. She discussed the potential for remote tech and changes in working patterns to create a fairer and more equal society. She also warned that often the discussion about the digital divide doesn’t touch on the impact of individual environments, using the example of a study by the OfS which found that three quarters of students don’t have a quiet place to study at home, and were far more likely than older people to work from a bed.
- Amber Rosier discussed the key challenges that face companies who are trying to become more diverse and inclusive. She said the three main challenges were too few people from underrepresented backgrounds in the sector, too few of these people in leadership positions and the products created by the tech sector not meeting the needs of these underrepresented people. She went on to offer some small changes that could begin to address these, including clear and transparent targets for diversity, incentives such as finder fees for diverse hires, tapping into new talent pools outside of traditional recruitment pathways and nurturing an inclusive culture built from the top down to enhance peer to peer connection.
- Muma Sikala stated that she thought real change in the sector would only come when companies that really care about diversity and inclusion hold their own goals and leaders accountable. She said that women and BAME people are less likely to have positions of responsibility in the tech sector, meaning the focus should not just be on diverse entry level hires, but in the boardroom as well. She said that leadership at the top of companies needs to reflect the bottom, as this is where the strategies for more diversity and inclusion come from.
- Charlene Hunter began by explaining how as a software developer she had never met any other black women in her industry, and so she set up her company so that black women in tech could come together to develop their skills. She described how Coding Black Females focuses on mentorship, leadership and sponsorship so that more black women are in tech roles from entry level right up to the board room. She said that Coding Black Females makes sure that the programmes they create understand the gaps in their community and industry so that they get they get people in the right positions to develop.