Diversifying the tech workforce might not be a sprint, but needn’t be a marathon

Written by Johan Hogsander on 3 March 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

Johan Hogsander of Transform examines what the technology industry can learn from the world of sport

Margot James, the digital minister, recently wrote to companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter, to ask that they adopt the Tech Talent Charter. The charter aims to overcome the worrying fact that under a fifth of tech and ICT workers in the UK are female. More worrying still, 90% of A-Level computer studies students are male. 

It’s clear that there’s still a huge amount of work to be done before we reach any kind of proportionately diverse workforce, despite making moves in the right direction – albeit at a glacial pace. Initiatives such as the Tech Talent Charter clearly have a pivotal role to play in encouraging honest and transparent discussion from leading businesses about their recruitment and retention. 

As important to keeping the conversation going are the events many agencies and companies across the UK are running regularly to keep diversity front and centre, such as our recent Women in Digital: What can we learn from women in sport? event. 

Representatives of Sport England, Superhero Series and Women in Sport drew comparisons between women in digital and sportswomen, exploring issues like the potential need for mandatory leadership quotas. These types of discussions, as well as Matt Hancock and Margot James’ work to solve the issue from a legislative standpoint, can drive real change.


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However, simultaneous to the need for diversity of gender and ethnicity, is the need for diversity of talent, job roles and skillsets. If there’s one major criticism of the Government’s approach to digital since Martha Lane Fox’s report in 2010, it’s that the drive to digital has been in the hands of too small a pool of people. Francis Maude, for example, was a powerful proponent of the impact digital services can have on citizens, but the talent enacting the change has been too focused on initial successes, rather than the long game.

To steal a sporting analogy, a heptathlete wouldn’t have the same coach for the 100m as they would the pole vault. So too, we need digital talent in the public sector which recognises that great strategy takes time, effort, and constant evolution. To reflect this, we need to see more jobs that require specific skills for specific departments and activities. 

There is no one-size-fits-all in digital, especially not the public sector, where each department is aiming for specific digital outcomes for UK citizens (compared to consumer goods brands, for example, which crave strong engagement with users). 

At the risk of overextending the sporting analogies, we absolutely need the crowd cheering on our race to the best digital services we can offer, but we also need the strength in depth of a UK team that can win both quick sprints and the marathon aim of winning gold.

About the author

Johan Hogsander is managing director at digital transformation specialists Transform

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