Is Diversity hard to find?

Diversity seems to have hit semantic satiation. That weird sensation where a word said too many times loses its meaning. I know. “Eugh, why did she use that phrase? Already hate her”. Stick with me just for a second.

‘Diversity’ can be difficult to feel truly connected with. The blanket term does not account for the individual experiences of those who fall under it. We place too much weight on the shoulders of one word — one word that can’t give enough meaning to the spectrum of experience that it encompasses.

As part of the Growth team here at Skills Matter, I have been seeking out ‘diverse’ conversations about diversity. The aim is to try and understand what diversity means now for those in tech. It’s strange as there are two perspectives of one notion about diversity that keeps occurring at meetups or when discussing one to one.

“Diversity is hard to find” — Version 1

Heads of startups, those in HR and management positions tell me that there are not enough women. You can then replace ‘women’ with any of your different demographic types that are typically associated with a diverse workplace. “We are looking for people,” they say, “but we cannot find anyone.”

It seems then that the world is your oyster if you are considered a minority within any given industry. Interestingly, this is usually said by those who are definitely not a minority representative.

These leaders want to learn and are open to discuss what will actually work. They are trying to work out what is missing.

“Diversity is hard to find” - Version 2

I then speak to skilled, underrepresented people working in tech. The common sentiments conveyed in my conversations often revolve around: “I don’t really see anyone like me”, “I love what I work in but I don’t know the opportunities”, “How can I push without it affecting my career?”

The advice commonly given to these questions is to have a side hustle, start your own businesses or be the inspiration you look for.

None of this is bad advice. My only question is: why?

Why do underrepresented people have to do it this way? A backup is always a good idea, but not at the expense of your ability to fully commit to your business or career. I have met those who tell me that their own development in the industry, as well as any visible growth in diversity, seems too small or too slow in comparison to the price of their efforts. They feel that their mental resources are stretched beyond what should be considered reasonable, and doesn’t reflect the common experiences of those already in tech.

Let’s take a look at the actual growth aspects of diversity and not just anecdotal evidence.

It’s easy to find articles outlining that diversity is beneficial financially, culturally and in terms of innovation, but the numbers support the observations of those I have talked to about the sense of isolation still out there in the industry.

We see that unemployment rates are higher amongst IT specialists that are disabled, older or from ethnic minority groups (BCS, 2017). In the United Kingdom, 22 percent of university students identify as black and minority ethnic, yet only 8 percent of UK executives in the study sample do (McKinsey, 2018). There are differing reports as well. One finding says 5 percent of leadership positions in the technology sector are held by women (PWC, 2017), and yet according to TechNation, 2018, 11 percent of tech leaders identified by communities were women.

Then there are figures that indicate a disparity between experience and reward in tech. If we look just at women in tech there are two interesting stats. There are over 50 percent of female developers who have more than 6 years experience (StackOverflow, 2018) but in a survey, Hacker Rank found women over 35 are 3.5x more likely to be in junior positions than men. We can’t draw conclusions from this but it begins the conversation on if diversity is getting ‘lost’ - if there is drop off or flat lining of progression and why it is happening.

I believe there are two key questions to finding this ‘lost’ diversity;

  1. What is happening in the career progression of diverse individuals?
  2. How are we measuring a skilled workforce?

These are simple but hard questions. If we answer them at their root, it impacts the actions we can take on both sides. We can create job descriptions that are more accessible, see where and how an individual’s career progression is hindered and how and when it can be helped. We can support those of diverse backgrounds for their needs. They can choose, like those who are ‘traditional’ members of the tech community, to go down alternative avenues when they want to, rather than having to.

Answering these questions is a work in progress that I’d like a bit of help with. If you know any places to look into this data, questions or notes you can add, please comment below as I would love to hear from you as I continue to gather this information.

I also want to caveat this that I, and my team believe there is more to do here at Skills Matter. We are built by our community and as we grow, so does our responsibility to make sure we are inclusive at every stage. If you’d like to discuss how we can better our accessibility, @ me, @tiffvitti (a whole 17 followers and a terrible twitter game).