Three city initiatives to promote diversity in London’s tech community

Chief Digital Officer for London, Theo Blackwell, sets out steps we are taking to address the diversity divide in tech.

The issues of diversity in the tech sector are well documented. This year the Tech Nation report revealed that only 19% of the digital tech workforce is female, compared to 49% if you look at all UK jobs. This flags a diversity dilemma in tech, reinforcing the current groundswell of industry activity to address inclusion and equality in digital companies. Similarly, BAME employees account for just 15% of digital tech workers.

This is not just unfair, but it can lead to even greater unfairness in the products we make — unless we start taking action.

When creating digital services and technology it is vital the right problems get solved, and what we make (or buy) is free from bias. This approach is fundamental to good design — understanding how your users think, how they behave and ultimately what they need, then incorporating that understanding into every aspect of design, backed up with data to enable the right problems to be solved.

Our Smarter London Together Roadmap aims to respect the diversity of our great city when we develop new digital services and will work in collaboration with partners to build this into a city-wide approach.

Below I outline three initiatives large and small which are making a start helping address the problem.

Tech Talent Charter

The city has a responsibility to lead change in 2018, a hundred years after some women first secured the right to vote. At the end of October the GLA committed to the Tech Talent Charter, a commitment by public and privately-run organisations to a set of undertakings that aim to deliver greater gender diversity in the tech workforce of the UK, one that better reflects the makeup of the population.

Signatories of the charter make a number of pledges in relation to their approach to recruitment and retention.

The Charter is made up of 5 pledges that signatories must adhere to:

have a senior-level, named representative with responsibility for Charter commitments
adopt inclusive attraction and recruitment processes, work towards a goal that, wherever possible, women are included on the shortlist for interviews and diverse talent is actively encouraged to apply for roles
ensure you have employment policies and practices that support the development and retention of an inclusive and diverse workforce
work collectively with other signatories to develop, share and implement protocols and best practice for the practical implementation of the aims of this Charter
contribute employment diversity data to a common central anonymised database for sharing among signatories twice a year, and for publishing publicly in an annual report

GLA Group was already committed to a number of these pledges through our work on improving equality and diversity, so this marks the next logical step for us.

The Mayor is also passionate about gender equality, demonstrating his commitment through the #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, and the launch of Our Time, a sponsorship programme for women to increase their progression into leadership positions.

The next step is to get the rest of London on board — businesses and councils alike. Through collaboration, data sharing, transparency, and willingness, we will be able to start making tangible changes in key issues of diversity.

Wiki edit-a-thon: addressing gender bias in Wikipedia

During London Tech Week we welcomed 70 London teenage girls aged between 14 -16 and 25 women tech entrepreneurs to a Wikipedia edit-a-thon held at Bloomberg’s central London HQ.

The issue of gender bias on Wikipedia is well documented (it even has its own Wikipedia page). Currently only 13% of Wiki editors are women and 17% of the biographies on Wikipedia are of women.

Our Wiki team at Bloomberg HQ in London

Supported by the Wikimedia Foundation, the edit-athon was organised to tackle the gender imbalance in Wikipedia pages and to encourage more women to edit entries. The teenage girls and tech entrepreneurs worked together to create new profiles of London women in order to increase the recognition of these women on the internet.

Among the pages created were Perminder Mann, the leading publisher, and Farrah Storr, editor of Cosmopolitan magazine.

The event not only taught skills required to create and edit pages on Wikipedia but the girls also learnt about an array of remarkable London women who were deserving of online recognition.

The idea to do this originally came from Sweden - Swedish embassies around the world have supported edit-a-thons in order to drive an increase in Wikipedia biographies about women. Here in the U.K. activist like the academic Jess Wade have been addressing the imbalance in their fields, but this is believed to be the first time a city has back such an initiative.

To continue to increase this recognition, I’ve written to London schools to host their own edit-a-thon. Wiki edit-a-thons are easy to organise and a great way for students to work together.

To become a Wikipedia editor, you can find more information here. For more information of how to apply to run an edit-athon, please follow this link.

Digital Talent Programme

To support diversity at entry-level jobs for young people, the Mayor’s Digital Talent Programme increases training in digital technology with new industry-approved courses for 16–24 year olds.

It focuses on attracting more young women and Londoners from a range of backgrounds to work in the sector. It supports collaboration between training providers, schools, further education colleges, universities and employers to ensure that young people have the skills that employers are looking for.

It includes a focus on attracting more young women and Londoners from a range of backgrounds to work in the sector.

In all of these initiatives, citizens can play a part — from getting their workplace to commit to the Tech Talent Charter or researching, or writing a Wiki or directing a young person towards a digital training programme.

See our progress on the Smarter London Together Report Card.