With continuing lay-offs across the global tech sector in 2023 came news that big tech firms are pulling back from commitments to diversity and inclusion. In stark contrast to the public commitments they made in 2020, Google, Meta and Zoom have all cut D&I roles in the US, as economic hardships bite and the culture wars rage. Corporate culture, it seems, is pushing back against ‘woke’. 

There are warning signs suggesting a similar situation in the UK, but in a highly competitive global environment, this would be a mistake and material threat to the UK tech sector.   

The technology industry has long struggled with diversity, with woeful underrepresentation from women and ethnic minorities, and little measurement being done across other lenses of diversity, like neurodiversity and socio-economic background. With focused and sustained effort, however, gains have been made – in fact, this year’s Diversity in Tech report reveals that 29% of all tech roles in the UK are now held by women or non-binary individuals, the highest number ever reported.

But in other areas, progress is lagging: only 14% of senior tech roles are held by ethnic minorities, and just 6% of tech employees reported as disabled, compared with 23% of the wider working-age population. 

Neurodivergence ‘massively underestimated in tech’

But while for some, D&I initiatives have been considered as ‘diversity washing’, the truth is that a focus on building an inclusive workplace culture and attracting a diverse workforce is about much more than reputation – it’s a key indicator of business success. 

Diversity is not only crucial for representation and equity, but it is also an essential driver of innovation and adaptability. By embracing diversity, organisations can tap into a wealth of unique perspectives and experiences that can inspire new ideas and solutions, while reaching and serving customers and clients better. Studies show that companies with diverse workforces consistently outperform their peers with better financial results, better staff retention rates, and increased resilience during challenging times.

And companies that build inclusive cultures are better equipped to attract diverse talent – an important strategy with tech talent still in short supply. 

Investment platform launches in Birmingham for underserved founders

So whatever tensions there may be around terminology, the issues that D&I initiatives are designed to solve have not gone away. Organisations who understand that their future success relies on the ability to attract and retain great talent know that the best way to do this is a strategy that attracts talent from a wide pool and creates a culture where that talent feels welcome and equal, and supports strong retention and progression for them. In this year’s Diversity in Tech report, despite some faltering on hard-won progress, there is evidence that the most ambitious and progressive companies are still investing in initiatives designed around these principles. 

These are some of the most innovative and exciting policies we’ve seen reported this year:

• Removing all length of service requirements to access parental benefits

• Running leadership accelerator programmes for thosewith disabilities, as well as gender and ethnic minorities

• Moving to a fourday work week at full pay

• Establishing fair work allocation for high-profile projects to ensure progression opportunities are being seeded fairly,irrespective of FT or PT status

• Shadow boards of different generations within the company

• Broader policies and benefits for reproductive health, including for transitioning, fertility, infertility, baby loss, menopause and menstrual health

• More openness to the different types of caring responsibilities, including leave for grandparents and pet owners

At a time when companies are stalling or rolling back on D&I, we need the leaders of our tech ecosystem to step up and declare clear intentions and allow themselves to be held accountable. We must ensure that the next frontier of technology is as innovative and diverse as the populations it serves.

New Angel network to ‘make North funding capital for female founders’