Only four percent of the UK tech workforce is black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME), only one in ten senior leaders are from BAME backgrounds, and nearly three quarters of boards have no BAME members.
The 2020 Design Business Association (DBA) annual report found that 94% of respondents were white and when it comes to senior roles, only 12% of design managers are from BAME backgrounds.
Why it matters
They are stark statistics, and they are statistics that matter for lots of reasons.
Working in the digital, creative and tech sector is rewarding and fulfilling so they should be open and accessible to all. And perhaps even more importantly, they provide opportunities to influence how the world works and what messages are shared. Tech, and the digital world especially, are shaping our lives more and more – we’ve seen innovations like AI and voice recognition developed without consideration for all communities and failing people because of it.
A diverse business can better represent clients and make sure products and services are designed for all the people who consume them. We can only represent the society we live in when it’s reflected in our teams – in terms of identity and lived experience. And a diverse business is also likely to be more successful, a recent report found that companies with high levels of ethnic and cultural diversity were 33% more likely to outperform their competitors.
At Gather we’re delighted to be joining forces with Agent Academy and the Anthony Walker Foundation to sponsor their collaborative programme to help young people from diverse backgrounds access our industries. We caught up with Natalie Denny, Programme Manager at the Anthony Walker Foundation to get her take on why programmes like this are important.
What's the programme all about?
“It's a partnership between the Anthony Walker Foundation and Agent Academy that is supporting a diverse group of 26 young people to upskill and help them towards a career in the digital, creative and tech industries.”
How did the programme come about?
“What's been really great is it's been a partnership between us, a community organisation, and Agent right from day one. From the funding proposal to session delivery, right through to supporting the young people with CV sessions and interview prep after the programme. It's been a really positive project, a blueprint really for other things going forward.”
What will the young people be doing?
“It's a pretty intense 12-week course of not just learning, but putting skills into action. We've already had our first cohort through and we set them the task of creating a launch campaign for our Speak Out Stop Hate initiative. They developed everything from concepts to imagery, materials to a launch event and it’s been a huge success.”
Why are programmes like this important?
“It's about opening up opportunities. These are young people who have an interest in the industry but don't know how to break in. Two days a week they are getting access to high level industry leaders who they wouldn't have met, they get access to incredible training and get portfolio pieces in a really short space of time. It sets them up for the future and we're already seeing the impact with four young people from the first cohort landing jobs in the industry.”
Why do you think there's a lack of racial diversity in the digital, tech and creative industries?
“In a lot of ways it's not what you know, but who you know. Many of the young people on the programme found out about it through word of mouth. If you don't have the contacts in your communities, if those jobs aren't seen as natural career paths they just aren't considered as an option. Projects like these show communities the value – in terms of skills and opportunities they offer.
I was involved with a project called 'You Can't Be What You Can't See' that was all about role models. It's so important for young people to see people like them in roles and careers they aspire to – it helps them realise what’s possible.
It's reflective of wider problems in society about representation and why some groups don't feel welcome or like certain industries are for them.
The reason people from black and ethnic minority communities aren't coming through isn't because of a lack of skills or even interest – there are a lot of barriers in this country that limit people's opportunities. Unpaid or low paid internships are often a way in but that's not an option for most people and even accessibility of programmes, whether that’s physically getting to them or having the right kit to access them online can be a challenge.”
What can businesses do to tackle this?
“Having a diverse workforce needs to go beyond filling quotas and ticking boxes. It's about creating a richer, better, more successful team. It really takes time and effort, engagement with communities and a genuine will to create change. The model of partnership we've created with Agent has really worked because it's sustainable and it's embedded in both organisations.
The answers are out there but people need to commit. It isn't enough to just do a bit of training or have a couple of black people join your team, there needs to be a commitment to playing a role in wider change.”
How you can play your part
So, what action can businesses take to play their part and encourage diversity in our industries?
These 5 steps to addressing racial inequality are a good place to start:
Be honest and upfront
Having honest conversations about how diverse – or not – your business is and the challenges you face is key. If you’re serious about addressing it, you might need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and encourage your team to do the same. For diversity to be more than a tick box exercise it needs to be authentic, part of your social values, and really lived. It’s not short-term quick wins but long-term relationship building with communities that will make the real difference.
In both the communications you put out and in putting yourselves out there too. To someone outside the industry the language you use might be alienating, understanding what roles are and what opportunities are on offer might not be obvious. Engage with the demographic you want to attract, find ways to connect with young people in local communities to be visible. It will take an investment – not just financially but your time too.
Re-think your recruitment
Make sure your job description is accessible – be clear who it is aimed and what the role entails – and think beyond the standard recruitment sites. Contact community leaders and approach colleges and universities for help in recruiting for entry-level roles. Break down barriers through open Q&A sessions or webinars so people can get an understanding of the role and your business in an informal setting.
Work on your culture
It’s not just about getting people through the door – it’s about them wanting to stay because it’s an environment where they can thrive. Where they can walk in and see someone that looks like them, or feel confident they will be treated in a way that respects them. A welcoming and supportive culture needs to stem from the top and be adopted by all. It needs to be explicit and meaningful in your diversity and inclusion policy, your inequalities charter, your values, and your internal and external communications.
Get external help
It can be useful to get an external perspective and support – whether it’s for a specific project, with recruitment, or your diversity and inclusion practices. Organisations like the Anthony Walker Foundation offer training sessions, holistic support, and opportunities to engage with communities and specialist recruitment agencies like Creative Access focus specifically on helping under-represented candidates. Also think about finding critical friends from diverse networks outside your business who can offer their perspective – make sure you compensate them for their time and expertise.
We all have the chance to play a small part in making our industries more inclusive. We all have the chance to benefit from diverse minds and different perspectives. It won’t be a short-term win but there are actionable steps we can take to commit to real change.