Over 20,000 black women ‘missing’ from the UK tech industry

Over 20,000 black women are currently missing from the UK IT industry according to a new report from Coding Black Females (CBF) and BCS.

The study analysed data from the Labour Force Survey by the ONS, pursued the views of 350 black women that work in the UK’s tech industry, and conducted in-depth interviews to put together the overarching picture of the main inclusivity challenges.

The report found that while black women make up 1.8% of the UK’s workforce, they only make up 0.7% of tech workers in the UK. That means that for black women to be truly represented in the IT industry, 20,000 black women would need to be additionally recruited to fill the gap.

Black women are still under-represented in the tech sector and also face barriers to progressions which come in the form of career development support, a lack of flexible working arrangements, and a “tech bro” culture in certain businesses according to the study.

The study also found that 67% of those asked said they felt they faced more barriers when it came to entering the sector than others, and 21% said they believe that existing and current DEI policies are having a negative effect on their progression prospects.

Women still remain poorly represented among developers/programmers (16%) and IT directors (17%). According to the study if there was equal gender representation in the tech industry, there would be an extra 486,000 women tech specialists in the UK.

Overall ethnic minority representation however, is higher in the tech sector compared to the wider workforce. The study notes that this is due to a high proportion of IT professionals of Indian origin.

Tech leaders have warned that for technology to be able to serve everyone, the only way that can be achieved is by having the workforce that builds the systems be truly representative of the country’s demographics.  

Charlene Hunter MBE, a BCS Board member and CEO of Coding Black Females, said: “High-stakes fields like data science and cyber security desperately need many more technologists from a diverse range of backgrounds, who all see computer science as an ethical, aspirational career choice.

“While there are some really inclusive IT organisations, our research with BCS found that successful black women (and women in general) working in tech are often where they are despite the prevailing culture and limited flexibility in their working options, and lack of inclusive working culture.

“The fact is that a diverse tech profession produces much better products and outcomes, for example in teams working on AI.

“We need senior leaders to match the large numbers of black women currently appearing in tech and engineering adverts, with genuine opportunities to progress into rewarding jobs.”

Greater diversity in senior positions would help ensure that thinking about bias was “included in every part of your design process”.

Rashik Parmar, chief executive of the BCS, the professional body for computing, said: “We will only be able to build the systems that serve everyone if the diversity of humanity is represented in the project teams that design and build these systems.”

Nimmi Patel, from trade association Tech UK, said while steps were being taken to support diversity and inclusion within the tech workforce, “clearly more must be done. Both industry and government should work together to inspire, educate, and attract diverse talent to ensure black women – and women in general – enter and progress through the industry.”

What are your thoughts on these findings? Let us know in the comments.

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