D&I Together

Charlotte Humphries, Managing Consultant for Oscar Digital, talks to us about diversity in the digital sector, its importance, and how companies can promote diversity in the workplace.

For the past five years, I have built my career operating across recruitment and talent management for the digital sector, in a number of roles. Throughout this time, I have made connections with some of the most exciting, innovative and forward-thinking businesses and professionals across the digital sector. 

It has been great to see those in the digital sector recognise how they can improve when it comes to creating a more-inclusive and diverse industry. However, as we well know, there is still work to be done, whether it be through D&I policies, funded initiatives, or by simply engaging others in wider conversations.

Whilst there’s definitely a lack of diversity in the digital sector, it is looking to improve year-on-year, which is promising! A major development still being worked towards is increasing the number of women in digital roles. There are some key factors to consider in building diverse representations in the sector – not only acknowledging why there is a lack of diversity, but how workplaces can help to improve it!

The digital sector is known for being a very close-knit community, which sometimes can be a real positive, but it does mean that people may struggle to access digital roles if they haven’t already got strong contacts in the sector. 

However, in the past few months, whilst events haven’t been able to go ahead due to social distancing, there has been a rise in online conferences, many of which are free to attend. As such, remote opportunities for network building and connecting with others act as a great alternative for people looking for their break into the digital sector.

Whilst there is a lack of gender diversity also in the sector, there are a number of programmes and initiatives to support women in the tech and digital industries. For example, the European Commission actively works on their Women in Digital policy, which aims to challenge gender stereotypes, promote digital skills and education, and advocate for more female entrepreneurs. 

The findings from the Women in Digital initiative provide some invaluable insights and statistics into creating an inclusive culture, which workplaces can use to inform their own initiatives and operations.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has also highlighted the lack of ethnic diversity in the digital sector, with almost 90% of employees in the sector coming from a white ethnic group. This is an improvement in comparison to 3 years prior to the most recent survey, when the statistic sat above 93%, yet the progress still seems to be moving a slower pace. The British Interactive Media Association continues to push for further initiatives and accountability around improving ethnic diversity in the sector, as even statistics around this seem to be difficult to source in terms of workplaces and their approaches to diversity for those from varying ethnic or racial backgrounds.

Speaking of workplaces, the recruitment agencies which they work with also have a vital role in diversity for the digital sector; because of a lack of diversity, some potential applicants may not feel confident enough to apply for certain roles, but recruitment agencies and operations can play an important role here. 

For example, at Oscar we are currently launching a new diversity & inclusion initiative, to support our candidates, clients and internal colleagues. This will help to lead our partners and those who we work with in developing their own diversity and inclusion policies in the working environment, and ensuring equal opportunities for all. 

How can the representation of diverse groups in the digital sector be improved?

There are a number of ways for diversity and inclusion to be increased in the digital sector, but for it to be successful long-term, more businesses need to be on board. For example, getting more involved in schools in order to educate young people on the different paths into the digital sector is vital. Subjects like media studies and encouraging internships or apprenticeships provide some of the best career paths in digital. Also, in terms of the gender divide, businesses need to be more open to shared maternity and paternity leave, and encourage women back to work with flexible working adjustments. 

However, improving diversity within the digital sector goes beyond what we can already see, such as the gender divide. An important issue that isn’t being addressed often enough, particularly in the UK, is why BAME millennials are 58% more likely to be unemployed than those who are white.

A key way for hiring managers to improve the diversity within their company, as well as the digital sector overall, is to review their hiring process. For example, monitoring interviews conducted and their processes ensures that a number of candidates are included from diverse backgrounds. If you become aware of patterns evolving, you can start to ask questions.

Are you providing equal opportunities for candidates from a variety of different racial and ethnic backgrounds? If you’re unsure, do a review of your current workforce and you’ll instantly know if improvements need to be made. In London alone, only 3% of the tech industry’s workers are Black, and a total of 15% come from BAME backgrounds, according to Tech Nation. Seeing numbers like this help employers to identify where the problems lie in their hiring processes, and help them to start assessing why this is happening.

Organisations such as BYP Network help to empower Black professionals around the world, as well as connecting them with organisations that are hiring. With a network of over 50,000 people, BYP Network is an excellent example of how businesses can proactively improve the diversity within their company, as well as the digital sector overall.

In addition to this, being inclusive of those with a disability is also vital when considering the diversity issues within digital. Despite there being almost 8 million disabled people of working age in the UK, only 53% of these people are currently in work, compared to 82% of those who are not disabled. Plus, according to research by Leonard Cheshire, an unbelievable 24% of employers say they would be less likely to employ someone with a disability. 

Tackling problems like this can seem neverending for employers and candidates alike, but working with organisations like AbilityNet is a great place to start. 

AbilityNet supports people of all ages, living with any disability or impairment, to use technology to achieve their goals at home or work. They do this by providing specialist advice services, free information resources and by helping to build a more accessible digital world. Furthermore, they also work with a huge number of businesses and employers to ensure job opportunities being advertised online are accessible to as many people as possible.

What advice is there for employers looking to build on diversity within their business?

It is vital that companies make it known that they promote and support diversity within the workplace. It needs to be on their website, social channels and any marketing collateral they may have – both online and offline. Displaying that they are an equal opportunities employer will result in more applications. 

Businesses also need to ensure that they provide training for all employees, regardless of whether they are hiring managers or not, on equality, diversity and inclusion. Not only will this promote a more pleasant workplace for employees, but it will encourage hiring managers to keep diversity at the top of their priority list. Training will also help employers to be aware of unconscious bias, and help to tackle it during the hiring process.

As for onboarding new staff, discussing diversity should also be part of the induction process. Knowing that all employees have been made aware that diversity is a vital part of the company’s ethos from day one will result in more future hiring managers keeping this at the forefront of their minds.

Diversity improves a workplace because it benefits everyone involved – the business owners, the employees and the consumers or customers. Ensuring an inclusive workplace means that different perspectives and ideas are offered to the wider culture of a business. Diverse backgrounds and cultures give projects and work more depth, and employees from a variety of backgrounds will question things and add real value.

When candidates join a business with a strong diversity and inclusion policy, morale within the business will be better for those from diverse backgrounds coming into the business. For example, if employees can see staff on a board or team that they can relate to, this will help them to see potential in their own career within that company.

Within the digital sector, a diverse workforce will improve market share and broaden an organisation’s customer base. However, employees need to feel they have a voice within the business they are working for, in order to allow their different perspectives to be heard. Directors, managers and team leaders within the digital sector need to ensure that they aren’t hiring diverse candidates as a check box exercise, but are actually looking to benefit the business and employees equally.

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