Category: Employer Focus, STEM, industry, argument, encourage, attitude, barriers, change, isolation, endeavour
Initiatives to up the number of women working in tech may focus on vendors, but the channel has a role to play too.Initiatives to up the number of women working in tech may focus on vendors, but the channel has a role to play too in increasing diversity in IT.
Diversity in the channel is a mirror of the wider challenges within the technology industry, particularly in terms of women in tech. The UK has the lowest participation of women in the STEM workforce in Europe and recent figures show that just 8% of the UK's top VARs are run by women. So, how can we as an industry open up more access to our sector? What needs to change to encourage a shift in attitudes and a move away from the channel being widely considered a "boys' club"?
Barriers to change
It's impossible to look at the channel in isolation when it comes to diversity and the context of the wider IT industry must also be taken into account. This isn't a UK only problem either, with Silicon Valley's major diversity problem constantly making the headlines. With the likes of Google, Netflix and Buffer endeavouring to change this, what's clear is change needs to start from within. Looking at the UK channel, there has been a shift in terms of diversity -- especially on the sales side -- however, this change simply isn't happening fast enough.
There's an argument to say that the issue extends all the way back to the curriculum. We see so much diversity being pushed out at school stage, which leads to just 13% of computer science and IT undergraduates in the UK being women. Already we're dealing with a self-limiting talent pool. Black and minority ethnic and disadvantaged young people are also considerably under-represented.
It goes back even further to the failure to engage young girls and harder to reach groups with STEM subjects in schools. Ultimately how IT is actually taught needs to change. Focusing on more exciting areas like coding and cybersecurity will inspire more excitement here.
While the industry is aware of the challenges in terms of diversity, we're taking our time to address them. At the same time, our slow reaction time is widening the skills gap, and compromising the business benefits delivered by a diverse workforce - increased productivity and creativity.
Speaking personally, we've been working hard to attract more women into our organisation, but certainly finding the right female talent is not always possible. If we're committed to this process and still finding it challenging, I can only wonder how businesses that are less invested in the process are doing.
Opening up the talent pool
The channel has an obligation to give back to its community. This is about companies making themselves more attractive as employers in ways that go beyond ticking the CSR checklist. We have to recruit differently, create different work-life options, incentivise and reward more innovatively. We need to look at other industries to see how they've broken down barriers -- and lowered ceilings. It's about how we keep people too. Are we doing enough to encourage women returning from maternity leave, for example?
It comes back to organisational culture. Specifically within the channel, we need a cultural shift towards taking that long-term view. We work in fast-paced, quarterly cycles, driven by commercial targets. Leaders in the channel need to think beyond year-end. Larger players are already doing this and doing it well. BT is a great example, drawing on its place as a large employer and high-profile brand to lead by example. This now needs to cascade further down the channel in terms of diversity initiatives.
Making the channel a better place
Diversity makes great business sense. Right now, our customers are becoming more diverse. By failing to address our own diversity, customers will outstrip our ability to match them, in terms of culture, outlook and ambitions. It's down to us to go out and understand their needs, see how they're changing and ensure we shape businesses that reflect these. The change has to come from within.
We need to be less product focused and more people focused -- ultimately it's our people who are our greatest asset. Take a step back, look at other industries, learn what they're doing better and bring these into our organisations. Understand what's happening in vendors' worlds and with customers, and be serious about making that change.
The prevailing culture of fear and apathy within the channel in responding to our diversity challenges is potentially dangerous. Let's look at what works, how it works, and how, collectively, as an industry we address it. There's a brilliant opportunity here for all of us and we need to act now.
VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please call 02037405973 or email [email protected] for more information.
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