Tackling the tech industry’s unconscious bias issue

Maya Sargent
Jan 18, 2023
  • 4 min read

There are so many companies, both well-established and at the start-up phase, that can be described as a “boys' club” and there needs to be significant change to ensure this becomes a thing of the past.

To paint a picture of just how bad things are currently, nearly three million people - the equivalent of 9% of the UK workforce, are employed in the UK tech industry. Just a quarter of that figure is made up of women. Wider data shows this isn’t going to improve without serious action - only 5% of tech leaders are women, 78% of students can’t name a famous female working in technology, and just 3% of women say a career in tech is a first choice.

Clearly, there’s a major issue that needs to be addressed, so what can businesses do to close the gender gap?

In this piece, Tecknuovo’s Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Maya Sargent gives her views. With a background in technology consultancy and recruitment for the tech sector, Maya has seen first-hand how biases can play negatively into its culture and practices. In this blog post, she explores what companies can, and should, do to counter unconscious bias in the tech sector.

Unconscious bias

Before entering the tech industry, I spent a decade in recruitment focused on growing IT teams in agencies and then in-house. I have some great memories from those days but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t discussions and decisions I witnessed which lit a fire under me to strive for diversity throughout the industry.

Most of those decisions linked back to one of the primary reasons that so few women believe the tech industry is a closed door to them - unconscious bias. It’s undoubtedly an issue plaguing businesses across the globe in every sector you can imagine. Even those which strive for gender equality often have a C-suite largely made up of men.

I’ve seen how affinity bias can drive hiring decisions, with CEOs more likely to interview people that went to the same university as them, or grew up in the same area, rather than even considering someone from a more diverse background. Without action, this will continue, and it’s not only toxic but actively harms the productivity of both the companies at fault and the wider economy.

Don’t mind the gap, close it!

Whether you’re reading this concerned you might be guilty of unconscious bias, or have a diverse team but are interested in best practice to ensure it stays that way, there’s a simple strategy well worth introducing. Anonymising CVs at the start of the recruitment process ensures the most qualified people for the role are interviewed, regardless of gender, race or sexuality.

It then becomes increasingly difficult for those biases to creep in without senior professionals admitting to themselves that they’re casting people aside for reasons other than professional acumen. This will prove most beneficial at lower levels but to ensure diversity in more senior positions, it’s key to have benchmarking in place to hit goals such as 50% male / female leadership. Publishing such goals will also keep you honest, rather than them being solely internal and therefore something that can be pushed to the wayside if the gap widens.

Anonymising CVs isn’t a diversity silver bullet though and there’s a long road to travel before UK businesses are where they should be. You only need to hear that male-owned businesses get seven times more funding than those owned by women to appreciate how far we still need to go.

That said, a business that’s diverse in every sense of the world, from the C-suite to entry level, will prove more successful over time. Diversity of character brings diversity of thought alongside increased creativity. With each day that passes, I’m hopeful that we’re getting closer to the masses realising exactly that, which in turn will bring the change that’s long overdue.

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