UK employers join forces to improve tech diversity

Technology, media, telecoms and professional services employers in the UK have committed to improving the diversity of their IT staff following scandals that have focused attention on the overwhelmingly male proportion of technology professionals.

Eighty nine of the country’s largest employers of computer developers — with almost 400,000 employees — have signed up to the Tech Talent Charter, which asks businesses to share recruitment and gender pay gap data specifically for their tech staff.

The initiative was launched two years ago but gained little traction. However it attracted signatories including BT, Cisco, Deloitte, PwC, HP, Dell and the BBC after getting government backing in a new digital strategy published this year.

Awareness of workplace diversity has increased following a push by lobby groups and politicians to improve reporting around gender pay imbalances. Scandals at Google, Uber and venture capital groups in the US have shone a particular light on a lack of diversity in the tech sector.

“You can’t catch all the fish if you only fish in half the pool,” said Matt Hancock, digital minister. “Yet our tech industry is still too male dominated, in fact and in culture.”

The charter sets no fixed targets for improving diversity overall or at senior levels and it will allow companies to share data anonymously. Unlike the Women in Finance charter signed by banks, insurers and asset managers in July, it does not oblige signatories to link executive pay to improved gender diversity.

The scheme will receive a “very small amount” of funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and will focus on collecting aggregate data about the proportion, pay and recruitment of women in tech.

Software and web developers are frequently employed by non-tech companies or businesses that also have sales, product and administrative staff. This means that company-wide figures do not always reflect the difference between overall diversity and diversity in higher-paid tech jobs.

According to the British Computer Society’s Chartered Institute for IT, just 17 per cent of tech specialists in the UK were women in 2015, the last time any comprehensive data were collected. The proportion is significantly lower than for other professions that are commonly thought of as male-dominated, such as barristers, police officers, accountants or chefs.

“In most technology companies you are lucky if it’s even 17 per cent,” said Debbie Forster, chief executive of the Tech Talent Charter. “It is a broken and leaky pipeline.” By April next year, all UK companies and public sector organisations with 250 or more employees have to report gender diversity data, including the difference between median and mean salaries, wages and bonuses, as well as the gap at different pay scales. However, businesses will not have to break down these figures by profession.

“The data sharing provision [in the Tech Talent Charter] means that we can start to build a better picture of the issue in the industry and to track whether there is any improvement,” said Jacqueline de Rojas, president of TechUK, the industry body. “We would like to see all our members sign up to the charter because we’d like to see a real step-change in the industry on these issues.”