Diversity event flags tech industry’s shortcomings


Tech London Advocates (TLA) and Here East hosted the Diversity in Tech event last night to highlight the technology industry’s lack of a diverse workforce.

Speakers included Deputy Mayor for Business Rajesh Agrawal and CEO at Teentech Maggie Philbin, who was recently voted Computer Weekly’s most influential woman in tech. They came together to share their experiences of diversity in business and debate ideas to accelerate change.

The event took place on the same day TLA published a survey revealing the majority of tech companies in London are not only predominantly male dominated, but almost half of their execs don’t believe increasing diversity would boost growth.

“The diversity of London is not represented in business,” said Here East CEO Gavin Poole. “By not embracing diversity, we are missing out on a huge pool of talented people.”

The problem is an old one, said Baroness Martha Lane Fox who founded DotEveryone to tackle the ‘digital deficit’, a term that describes “wasted opportunities because we fail to teach people how to exploit digital technologies”.

“We are replicating old hierarchies. It is urgent we ask ourselves how can we make our organisations more diverse and encourage people from different backgrounds, ages, abilities and geographies to come along?” she added.

The answer is complicated. This year, Facebook reported a decrease in women and minorities working in their US offices. Globally, only 30% of women make Microsoft’s workforce, and Apple’s latest diversity report showed 62% of all employees at the manager level or above are male. These figures highlight how, in spite of flagship diversity policies, the numbers in big tech companies are not improving.

“If I’m gay and mixed race, how many points for that?” Joked Josh Rivers, co-founder of LGBT+ mentorship scheme Series Q, hinting at the reason some diversity strategies fail.

“Entrepreneurs need to lead from the front and say ‘I want to lead a diverse organisation’. If you’re one of them, just look around you and if you all look the same, do something about it”, he said.


While the debate generated criticism, with Twitter users pointing out speakers were “talking about the same stats, rather than changes that can be made”, the story in the large networking area at the event was a different one.

Dozens of small organisations were eager to demo their products and demonstrate the impact they’ve made by combining digital training with a diversity ethos.

Universal Leavers Application Service, (ULAS), is one of those organisations. In just three years, it has improved the employability skills of over 3,000 school leavers by helping them build an online board of achievements and a CV throughout sixth form, with the support of their teachers.

Mama Codes, an online platform set up by three London mums, brings parents and children together to engage in creative coding activities from the age of three, such as making animated stories with songs, rhythms and jokes.

“We want to bring down the myth that coding is for geeks. Coding is for everyone, including kids. It’s just a matter of discovering what you can do with the skills you learn”, said Alice Thompson, one of Mama Codes’ founders.

Muslamic Makers, Code First Girls, Apps for Good, Makers Academy , Digital Futures, or Women Returners are just a few other attendees that instilled hope with their practical examples for change.

The message they sent was clear: education is key to break mental biases, address the lack of confidence in girls and increase the number of people with engineering skills.

“Diversity is not black, white, young, old, tall or short. Diversity is about skills,” said Joysy John, CIO at ADA, the National College for Digital Skills. “The question is, what are we doing to provide people with the skills they need to succeed?” She concluded.