Top 10 women in tech and diversity in tech stories of 2020
As the year draws to a close, Computer Weekly looks over some of the notable stories relating to women in tech, diversity and inclusion throughout 2020
Increasing diversity in the tech sector, and working towards inclusive culture in firms, is an ongoing process in the technology sector.
Though efforts are being made to increase representation, progress is slow, and many underrepresented groups still struggle to feel at home in the space.
The conversation has definitely shifted away from just working towards encouraging more women into the sector, and towards making the sector inclusive for all – a theme that was still very much apparent in 2020.
At the beginning of the year, industry collective the Tech Talent Charter released its second annual benchmarking report aimed at monitoring the changes to the number of women in tech in its signatories.
The report launch saw the Charter’s CEO, Debbie Forster, claim the initiative would be shifting its focus towards diversity and inclusion in the future, alongside women in tech.
“Looking to the year ahead, we are going to be growing the scope of the Tech Talent Charter beyond gender diversity to building an inclusive culture for all,” she said. “This time next year, we hope to have insight into best practice on ethnicity, age, disability, social inclusion, mental health and neurodiversity, as well as wider forms of intersectional diversity.”
Software bootcamp Makers Academy also called for a “change in narrative” surrounding the lack of women in tech.
While launching its second annual Women in Software Powerlist, the bootcamp’s head of marketing, Alex Bailey, explained: “We know that when talking about diversity in tech, it really doesn’t end with gender. We want to do a lot better. We know there’s a lot more work to do. But by changing the narrative around gender, we can begin to change other aspects of diversity as well.”
The coronavirus outbreak forced the UK into lockdown in early 2020, leaving many using technology to work or learn from home.
But this also led to many suffering from a period of poor mental health while trying to juggle a change in routine, new ways of working and dealing with a global pandemic.
Computer Weekly looked at some of the ways people could properly look after themselves while working from home during an extremely stressful time for everyone.
A lack of diversity and inclusion in the tech sector has been a long-standing issue, and research from the BCS found figures surrounding tech diversity have been stagnant for a long time.
Research by the BCS found in 2019, women accounted for only 17% of IT specialists in the UK, a figure which has only grown by 1% over the past five years.
It also found that around 8% of IT specialists are of Indian ethnicity, 2% are from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background, and 2% are from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds.
The figures also looked into older IT workers and tech professionals with disabilities – meaning those with physical or mental disabilities lasting for more than a year, making it difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks – finding 22% of IT professionals in 2019 were aged 50 or above, a figure that hasn’t changed much over the past five years, and 11% of all IT specialists in the UK at this time had disabilities, which has increased from 8% in 2015.
A lack of diversity and inclusion in the tech sector already made it difficult for some under-represented groups to break into the industry – with the added difficulty of the pandemic, many needed more support to find appropriate tech sector roles.
In August 2020, technology community Muslamic Makers launched a programme designed to help people from a Muslim background in the UK to develop skills, receive coaching and learn more about possible digital careers.
Dubbed the Muslamic Makers Digital Careers Kickstarter Programme, the initiative aimed to give participants access to work experience, mentors and networking opportunities with industry professionals.
A lack of diversity in the tech sector is not a problem only faced by the UK.
During a trip to East Africa in the early 2000s, Sonal Kadchha found a lack of secondary education and few teachers, which eventually led her to teach women in the region how to code.
Focusing on empowering women in the region through the use of technology, Kadchha founded charity Educating The Children (ETC) to encourage teachers to volunteer to teach primary school children in Kenya, build secondary schools for young women, and encourage women to take part in software careers.
Each year, Computer Weekly announces the list of the Most Influential Women in UK Technology alongside an interview with its winner, the Most Influential Woman in UK Tech, which in 2020 went to CEO of Stemettes, Anne-Marie Imafidon.
The aim of the list of the Most Influential Women in UK Technology is to showcase female role models in the sector to make them more visible and accessible. Each year we also publish the longlist of nominees to shine a light on as many women as possible.
As well as the top 50, Computer Weekly also announced entrants to its Hall of Fame, women who have made a long-term contribution to the technology sector, and several Rising Stars, who are selected for their growing contribution to both the technology sector and the diversity in technology agenda.
This year’s Most Influential Woman in UK Tech, Anne-Marie Imafidon, said: “Talking is fine, education and understanding is obviously needed, but the number one thing needs to be action and genuine advocating.”
There has been lots of advice over the years about how to build an inclusive and diverse tech sector, but one of the pieces of advice regularly given is that a push for diversity and inclusion should start at the top of a business.
A panel of experts speaking at the 2020 Black Tech Fest event explained several ways that the industry can push for diverse and inclusive teams, including constant education at board level and developing a “long-term” strategy for change.
One of the panel members pointed out it can be helpful to have those at the top of the organisation involved, as they often have more power to shift the dial.
Similar advice was given at the 2020 Women in Business Expo, where a panel of experts highlighted that in many cases firms that struggle to find female technology talent may have internal issues with hiring and culture.
Advice given by the panel included ensuring job specifications are right, accepting people’s differences and making sure the culture of the business is open and inclusive.
Building diversity and inclusion, both in and outside of the technology sector, should not be solely focused on diverse hiring, but also on making sure technology is designed for everyone’s use.
At the tail end of 2020, industry organisation GSMA launched a framework of guidelines aimed at making mobile technology more accessible for people with disabilities.
The framework included advice such as ensuring disability inclusion is embraced at every level of an organisation, understanding how to reach and serve people with disabilities, and delivering inclusive products and services.