According research by Linkedin, only 28 per cent of software engineers are women.
This figure has only increased by three per cent over the last 15 years, and, worse still, women in leadership roles have only risen a mere 2.3 per cent.
The way I see it, the tech sector is hampered by unconscious biases that are distorting perceptions. As a consequence this exciting and innovative sector is liable to continue loosing top talent if we don’t make significant progress in changing the ratios. Right now the tech world is stagnating when it comes to achieving greater equity for women and embracing diversity generally.
Whilst there is no doubt that change needs to start at the level of education, where perception of women in tech is still depressingly poor, it goes without saying that having a diverse mindset is a daily journey into the unknown. I should know, I re-new that journey every time I interview a potential new employee to join our team. The very first rule of thumb is steering clear of hiring people who are just like me, who mirror my beliefs, my values, my whole modus operandi.
That is probably one of the hardest lessons a leader has to learn. When interviewing someone you are getting on with really well, ask yourself whether you are in fact drawn to this person because they see the world the way you do.
This rule needs to be firmly embedded throughout an organisation. Empower your team to hire people who are diverse, not for the sake of diversity per se, but for the sake of building different personality facets into the team. This is the best way to add strength, resilience, creativity and innovative flair to a team. It will also ensure your employees learn to challenge each other to think further, to stretch beyond their comfort zone and be prepared to try new ways and embrace the unknown. Only then will the team really grow.
Another valuable lesson I have learnt is to shun the usual hiring pipelines – maybe not all the time – but every so often source new talent from unusual places – be open to new peope you meet even if you are not looking to hire at the time. Be intentionally open to diverse points of view and keep checking your own unconscious biases towards diversity.
A team is a dynamic group of people who need continual stimulation. A diverse team should by its nature build on each other’s strengths, however, most traditional organisations tend to reward the self-promoters within their teams.
Look to changing this by actively encouraging those who may be more introverted in your team. These may be the people who are less likely to put themselves forward for promotion. A good line manager needs to balance all personality types in their team and ensure that a sense of team spirit is engendered via diversity, rather than despite diversity.
In 2015 McKinsey put out a study stating that women-led startups generate 15 per cent higher financial returns than startups run exclusively by men.
These kind of studies tend to make me feel uncomfortable. Whilst it is true that diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time, it could also be argued that those organisations who have an open and diverse mindset are generally more dynamic by nature, more agile, less hampered by old traditional ways of operating and as such their higher returns are due to their overall mentality rather than ‘just’ the fact that they have diverse teams.
Diversity is still a tricky one to truly measure accurately – despite the volumes of research that have been undertaken on the topic. There is no one magic formula which every organisation should adopt.
What I do know for a fact, having co-founded my own tech organisation, is that when you immerse yourself in different cultures, you see the world from different perspectives and solve problems better. What will appear a massive challenge to one person is likely to appear as a tantalising issue to be solved to someone else.
From my perspective, being diverse is the right way to operate, it meshes interesting minds, it raises the game, the atmosphere at work is more highly charged, there is energy and spirit that drives our teams. We don’t always agree, in fact we often don’t agree, but we handle this in a mature way, discussing all the options and listening to everyone’s point of view. I truly feel we feed on each other’s enthusiasm whilst listening to those who are more cautious.
Diversity is at its most powerful when everyone embraces it for the opportunity to learn new ways to solve problems, not for the sake of being diverse. Going outside your comfort zone is not for everyone, but those who have made the journey feel all the stronger and more resilient for it, and no doubt will dig deeper to create more dynamic organisations.
About the author
Sharon Baker is a co-founder of MightySocial. MightySocial is one of the winners of Deloitte Tech Fast 50 for two years running and ranked in the top 20% of the Inc. 5000 List of Europe’s Fastest-Growing Companies. They are also the 2018 Red Herring 100 Europe winners for their use of AI with a patent-pending super-tool – The Atom – that is poised to build smarter custom audiences at scale.