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Tech Talent Charter 2020 plan to make UK tech more inclusive

Tech Talent Charter 2020 plan to make UK tech more inclusive

Taking action for inclusion

(Excerpts from an article by Charlotte Trueman first published in Computerworld Jan 2020)

In 2016, Debbie Forster and a group of like-minded individuals looked at the tech industry and saw lots of well-intentioned companies trying to improve the diversity of their organisation but struggling to make any real progress. As a result, in 2017, the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) was born, with Forster at the helm.

The not-for-profit recently released its second diversity in tech benchmarking report with statistics and insights gathered from the 300-plus companies and over 70,000 employees that make up the signatories of the Tech Talent Charter.

While there isn't 50/50 gender parity, Forster is pleased with the progress that the results illustrate. Across TTC’s signatories, women hold 24 percent of technical roles, compared with the UK average of 16 percent. Within the Charter’s micro-companies, defined as companies with one to nine employees, women hold 42 percent of technical roles.

Collaboration is key

“We bring together employers, recruiters, consultants and people who are working with under-represented groups to help them collaborate," Forster explains. "We think most of the pieces of the puzzle are out there but it's about bringing them together.”

Two enterprise members of the charter are HP and Nationwide. While one is a technology company and the other is a building society, both were founding signatories in 2017 and continue to support the initiative through their involvement in the TTC Strategy Group.

Both the building society and the PC hardware seller had a history of fostering a culture of inclusion and diversity before the TTC and wanted to enable others working in the technology sector to do the same.

Inclusion at Nationwide

At Nationwide, being a founding signatory felt relevant because of the Charter’s “strong alignment to the purpose of Nationwide,” explains Faye Whitmarsh, head of culture and engagement at the building society. “It really fitted with where the organisation was looking to go.”

Nationwide, which currently has 63 percent female representation across its workforce and 35 percent of leadership roles held by women, has gone on a similar journey. The company has worked hard to internally foster an inclusion-first strategy, whilst providing external support for schools and women in STEM.

Whitmarsh says that there isn’t a quick fix for inclusion and that any attempts to improve diversity need to be multi-faceted, otherwise they will fall short of their aim.

“In the past, [organisations] have tried to fix women, or fix ethnic minorities when actually the focus needs to be on fixing the system,” Kirsty Keck, delivery lead for the ‘Tech Talent Squad’ at Nationwide, notes.

She also believes that organisations need to be much more experimental in their approach; testing initiatives on a small number of employees to see if they are effective, rather than rolling out company-wide programmes only to find they have less than the desired effect.

To reflect this, Nationwide has set up pilot schemes including a programme that allows employees to learn technical skills over a 12-week period, development programmes for recent graduates or people who are looking to change careers, and a mentorship scheme that has proven so popular the pilot has been doubled to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate.

“One of the things we’ve come to realise is that taking a broad-brush approach and thinking that one thing is going to solve everything, doesn’t work,” Keck explains. “Our approach has shifted to much more small experimentation as opposed to one massive scale opportunity."

The year ahead

For the Charter’s signatories, the next 12 months are about continuing to build an inclusive environment for diverse employees while helping TTC to bring more organisations into the fold. HP set itself a goal of signing up 50 new companies to the Charter and has thus far successfully brought 30 on board.

Nationwide is also looking to scale up its pilot programmes this year whilst focusing on its returners programme – an initiative that helps bring those who have taken a career break back into the workforce – and helping to reskill that untapped pool of talent.

“The time to act on it, to focus on the practical and move the dial is now,” as Forster concluded.

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