The drive for inclusive cultures in tech businesses

8 March 2021

The thoughts of UCLan's Dr Adrian Wright and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership's Kerry Harrison and Maya Ellis

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inequalities in our workplaces. To ensure we can all thrive in an equitable post coronavirus economy, we need a collective approach between businesses, and local and national policymakers. A key challenge is ensuring that we work collaboratively, to find new approaches to meet the emerging needs of key sectors, nurture new and existing talent, provide ‘good’ work, and exploit new opportunities to drive growth and innovation in national and regional economies. Lancashire's businesses face an unprecedented external environment in which to navigate. With the Covid-19 pandemic, life outside the European Union, and the drive to ‘level up’, STEM industries have been firmly placed at the heart of the UK’s future prosperity. However, to ‘level up’ there needs to be a renewed focus on creating a diverse and inclusive workforce to encourage the UK and its regions thrive.

The composition of the tech workforce illustrates the unbalanced nature of the sector. The technology sector falls behind UK workforce trends in disability, gender and age. Just one-in-five workers in the technology workforce are female and 57% of technology workers are in their 30s and 40s, in comparison to 44% in the rest of the UK workforce. This is reflected in the composition of Lancashire's Digital workforce which has fewer than one in six workers that are female and is predominantly made up of employees aged between 25 and 64, with just less than six out of ten employees (58%) aged between 25 and 49, although more diverse in terms of ethnicity.

While the economic contribution (GVA) of the Digital sector in Lancashire has grown by 14% since 2012, these statistics suggest that diversity remains a key challenge within Lancashire’s digital sector. However, in growth lies opportunity, Lancashire’s digital sector is expected to increase by 36% between 2018 and 2028, employing an additional 1,800 employees. A commitment from employers, with support from local stakeholders, to address diversity in the digital workforce can result in a win-win scenario as Lancashire can address skills gaps through enhancing diversity and inclusion.

"A key challenge is ensuring that we work collaboratively, to find new approaches to meet the emerging needs of key sectors, nurture new and existing talent, provide ‘good’ work, and exploit new opportunities to drive growth and innovation in national and regional economies"

Dr Adrian Wright

To address a lack of diversity in the digital workforce there needs to be an increased emphasis on workplace cultures, policies and practices. Focusing on recruitment and progression can deal with practices that lead to narrow pipelines of candidates from similar backgrounds and progression that unconsciously favours upholding the status quo. In the male dominated world of technology we can talk openly about masculine work cultures and ‘bro culture’ that can make technology work inhospitable for women and unattractive as a career path. An important challenge is to move beyond individual approaches for addressing inequalities and look to structural approaches to find the solution. By doing this, organisations can move to be places where everyone belongs. To deal with existing workplace inequalities and skills gaps and face up to the challenges of post Covid/Brexit economy we need to work together to consider the role policy and culture can play reducing inequalities in the sector. After all, businesses that are more diverse are more productive and enhance the health and wellbeing of their workforce; research shows that organisations that are more diverse are more likely to outperform less diverse organisations on profitability.

To support Lancashire businesses in addressing these challenges and progressing on their journey towards belonging for all, a ground breaking partnership between the Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership, the Lancashire Innovation Board and University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise in collaboration with the Tech Talent Charter (TTC), a non-profit organisation leading a movement to address inequality in the UK tech sector, are collaboratively leading the charge to deal with inequalities in Lancashire’s digital sector. Local businesses in Lancashire are being given the opportunity to participate in a new three-part ‘How to’ Inclusion and Diversity series offered exclusively to employers of tech talent. These practical, short sessions will allow Lancashire businesses to progress their inclusion and diversity strategy covering:

  • How to get your whole team bought into the business case for diversity and inclusion.
  • How to build a more inclusive culture: first steps.
  • How to hire the best candidates from the broadest talent pools: practical actions

To participate in the programme sign up here and take the first steps to level up Lancashire's digital workforce.

The Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership is part of the Skills and Employment Hub of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. This trailblazer was set up in conjunction with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and aims to bring together public, private and charity sector organisations to address digital skills gaps in the County.

The Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise resides within the Faculty of Business and Justice at the University of Central Lancashire. The School’s mission is to have a positive economic and social impact regionally, nationally and internationally, by being an innovative and enterprising business school.

The Lancashire Innovation Board is a new board that has been created by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership to bring together a range of private and public sector partners to provide the strategic leadership and accountability for the organisation's Innovation Plan and its delivery.