Achieving Diversity in Tech

Written by: on April 15, 2024

I dislike recipes with pages of waffle before the instructions. To get straight to the point, I’ve created 10 principles for achieving diversity whilst recruiting in tech that I’m trying to follow myself. All of which I believe will reduce the risk of racist, classist, and gender-biased recruiting. Take what you will from it!

It’s worth noting that my history as a white male with a poor background means I’ll inevitably look more towards avoiding classism in recruitment. Still, my belief is that intersectionality means that what helps one disadvantaged group can help another.

Achieving Diversity Tips:

Hire outside of your comfort zone

The people who make you feel the most comfortable are going to be like you. Diversity will help you to question your biases, ideas and plans.

Seek Courageous Leaders

The timid seek to please, which can impede any defence of diverse teams and individuals who face biases. Instead, select and foster leaders who can stand up for diversity.

Foster open conversations

Being approachable and sharing encourages others to share their stories. Reveal the unseen diversity in your workplace that lies beyond visible traits and enrich your workplace with a multitude of perspectives.

Avoid tokenism in diversity

Diversity should not be reduced to mere box-ticking as you select from specific groups. Find ways to create equal opportunities for everybody, regardless of background. 

Own your diversity efforts

Membership in diversity-focused organisations like InnovateHer is positive, but it doesn’t absolve you of responsibility. True diversity requires active participation and reflection on your organisational culture and practices and how it affects people across all sectors of society.

Implement blind hiring practices

Remove personal identifiers from CVs. Blind hiring minimises biases at the first stages of hiring and gives everyone an equal chance at reaching a point where they can prove their capability. This means looking for and removing indicators of class, disability, or background. Start by anonymising names, degrees, early schooling, gender, and the presence or absence of disabilities.

Educate on unconscious bias

Engage with your teams on unconscious bias to help foster awareness and growth. Once people recognise their biases, they start to address this and are more likely to aim to foster an inclusive workplace.

Broaden your hiring networks

Relying solely on personal networks for hiring can feel very safe, but it will limit diversity. Expand your search to sources that include candidates from varied backgrounds and experiences. 

Emphasise skill and experience in shortlisting

Make sure that any shortlisting is based on professional merits. Do not be overawed by fancy universities or the ability to speak a foreign language that isn’t necessary for the job. Too many times, as a contracting consultant developer I found myself building systems for recruitment that allocated more points to people with a degree and no experience than someone with no degree and many years of relevant experience. You only have to think about it to realise that’s insane.

Adapt recruitment to candidates

Recruitment demands excessive time, from cross-country travel to lengthy multi-step interviews. It inadvertently excluding single parents, carers and those with limited financial resources or time. Be flexible in recruitment in order to account for a diverse range of personal circumstances.

The Backstory

I was invited to submit a blog for the wonderful InnovateHer on the subject of achieving diversity in tech. As an industry, you only need to stand in a tech-related office to realise that we’re not diverse. I felt this myself when I first started, way back in the eighties. I was the lowest-class programmer I had ever met for many, many years- surrounded by middle-class people. 

It’s not terrible– I’d say tech is often lower middle class, which means it’ll pull a fair bit from the upper working class and upper middle classes, too. It’s substantially better than, for example, journalism, where around half have a public school education, according to research by the Sutton Trust in 2015. In other class frameworks, by social scientists, tech tends to fall into what’s known as the “Technical Class”. But generally, I don’t think tech is as class-diverse as it could be. Let me explain why…

As a kid, I had an itinerant father who dragged me from town to town and country to country as he tried to avoid losing custody of me. He would drop me off at well-meaning but largely unsuitable informal fosters before my grandmother finally took charge, went to court for guardianship, and I moved in with her in the caravan park that she lived in. As a result, however, I went to one of the worst-performing high schools in one of the worst-performing boroughs in the country. I still gained from my grandmother, giving me stability, and from her fostering my curiosity in tech by allowing me to take over the living room TV with my computer for hours on end.

Life with her went well enough. I got my A levels, and one day, I hit HR during recruitment for my first serious job. It was for an apprenticeship-style job that lay somewhere between the standard apprentice schemes for technical staff and the graduate schemes. It allowed people to shortlist on the basis of testing well at certain aptitudes. I aced those tests. However, after my interviews, the hiring manager told me that HR had recommended against hiring me. However, he decided to look past the fact that I was the scruffiest person to arrive at the interviews and looked instead at what I was capable of achieving. He overrode HR and gave me the best possible opportunity I could have had at the time.

In reality, HR was probably right. I was a difficult employee for many years. My grandmother died a few weeks after I started, and I was a rudderless and somewhat lost young soul. I also didn’t understand all the middle-class codes and expectations. So I was scruffy, gobby, and didn’t know when and where to hide my true character like every good middle-class boy knows. But over time, I got things together, turned out alright and put in a solid decade of work.

Then, in the late nineties, when it was time to spread my wings and move on, I realised that not everybody was like that first manager I had. Although there were already EDI initiatives in place, many didn’t feel like they included me—consequently, I often felt like I was excluded. I’ve never seen travellers, for example, or other people from lower working-class backgrounds mentioned as being the subjects of positive EDI support.

On top of that, many job descriptions insisted I had a degree I didn’t have, even though I had ten years of experience.

So I became a contractor, where recruiters will take more risks in recruitment because you’re dropped if you turn out to be a poor performer. I earned and learned a lot during that period. It was great. I felt free, somehow, because, with a few exceptions, I was looked at only for what I could do over a short period of time in a contract. In other words, people were mostly interested in my skills and not my background.

It’s worth noting, of course, that most of my problems can be covered up over time and with care. I learned to hide my class background, my lack of education and my accent. I should never have had to hide the truth of my identity, of course. It stinks, in fact, that it’s necessary. But sometimes, you have to face reality as an individual and adapt. Systemic biases are complex, and each type of discrimination needs to be handled differently.

As another example, a friend of mine couldn’t change his colour, but decided to change his name from Salim to Mike and was astonished at the difference it made to his career and how he was perceived in the workplace—something which, if you think about it, is dreadful. Yet even the nicest people have unconscious biases that they respond to—and these need to be treated differently.

Consequently we must help diversity in our workplaces by giving as many people as possible equal opportunities. And the best bit is that it can help our firms pick up people that might otherwise go unrecognised. I can’t change the education system. I can’t change other companies. But I can change how I recruit.

Next Steps for Achieving Diversity

I hope these principles can be useful to you. They are not complete. They are flawed. I know that. And I welcome feedback. I’d love to hear your stories, what you did to counter biases both personally and professionally, and what could be added or changed in these principles.

This blog was written by David Coveney, director of Interconnect/it, one of InnovateHer’s Partners. To find out more about becoming an InnovateHer Partner, click here.

Back to news and views

Share this story:

Read more:

Tech Skills in Lessons: Unlocking Potential

May 24, 2024 - Libby

Navigating Equity and Inclusion in Schools

May 1, 2024 - Libby

Tech for Revision: Resources 

April 22, 2024 - Libby

see all news