Tech Sector Diversity: A working example of the problem with the term ‘BAME’​ and the role of data in delivering inclusion

November 2022

As we press ahead with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and blockchain enabled technologies such as cryptocurrencies, NFTs and metaverses enter mainstream awareness, it’s becoming clear to see how the very fabric of society is changing; from the way we bank, work and socialise to how and what we ‘own’.

Given the tech industry’s all encompassing influence on our day to day lives, it is arguably the most important industry when it comes to inclusion and diversity. We have already seen how a lack of inclusion within the industry has led to products being developed that do not work effectively for, and sometimes worse, discriminate against women and people of colour — e.g. facial recognition systemshiring algorithms and search engine results — and so as tech continues to permeate all areas of life more must be done to ensure it does not harm already marginalised groups.

The tech sector is the fastest growing industry in the UK having grown tenfold over the last decade, with 2021 seeing record hiring, at a faster rate than the UK private sector as a whole. This growth and the need to hire new employees provides technology based businesses an opportunity to address inclusion and diversity, starting with their hiring practices. But, what is the current situation when it comes to D&I in the UK tech sector?

Gender is tech’s biggest diversity problem with only 21% of employees being women compared to 52% for the wider UK workforce. When it comes to ethnic diversity however, an initial glance at the data would suggest that the UK tech industry has managed to outperform the overall UK workforce, with 16% of employees coming from a non-white background versus 12% for wider labour market. At the aggregate level, this is positive news and without further interrogation, one might assume that other employers have a lot to learn from the sector when it comes to employing “BAME” employees.

However, closer examination of the data demonstrates the problem with grouping all non-white ethnic groups in the same ‘broad-brush’ category; the term “BAME” fails to recognise the unique experience of diverse ethnic groups which serves to enable inequality to persist. In this instance, whilst Indian workers are overrepresented in the tech industry (7% of workers coming from an Indian background versus 2% in the rest of the workforce) Pakistani and Bangladeshi representation is no better than the wider workforce and Black representation is far worse. Therefore, in truth, the tech industry has succeeded in being more inclusive for those of Indian origin (particularly men), at the same time as excluding many of those from Black backgrounds, a nuance that is hidden when reporting topline “BAME” statistics.

The disaggregation of data is critical when working to achieve equity in the workplace. Beyond ethnicity, data can allow employers to identify unequal outcomes for all minoritised groups. Whilst some companies are becoming better at routinely collecting data on gender and disability it is often the case that socio-economic data is overlooked. As a result, companies may appear more diverse based on the physical attributes of employees, but less so when it comes to their backgrounds and perspectives. This is supported by research from The Bridge Group that found 67% of tech employees come from professional/managerial backgrounds and 21% attended independent or fee paying schools compared to the national average of 37% and 7.5%, respectively.

Furthermore, if tech companies only focus on who they employ and fail to also disaggregate data based on what employees do, it can mask the lack of progression of underrepresented employees and other biases that may exist. For example, data from the 2020 BCS: the Chartered Institute of IT study found that Black, Asian and ethnic minority employees are less likely to hold management positions despite being, on average, better qualified than their White peers.

The Catalyze Tech Working Group recently published their ACT report highlighting the importance of collecting and disaggregating workforce data. Amongst other things, they recommend collecting data that includes socioeconomic status; taking an intersectional approach when analysing data and also suggest that data is collected to enable understanding of how demographics differ by function (e.g. tech/non-tech) and seniority. In doing so, this will enable companies to identify and act on unequal outcomes for different employee groups.

However, understanding the problem is only the starting point. Action must also be taken to address inequality and this begins with the tech talent pipeline. Consequently, the ACT report recommends that tech companies ‘fund programs and organisations that build pathways into tech for students from underrepresented groups’ as well as creating internships and apprenticeships. Founding signatories of the report include leading Global tech firms such as Apple, Google and Salesforce. Therefore it is hoped that going forward a systematic approach to diversity data will create the required accountability that paves the way towards meaningful action and change.

If you are a technology based business that wants to be part of the solution and create a working environment where all prospective employees, regardless of their gender, socio-economic or ethnic background, will feel welcomed, then one place to start is working with an organisation like The Brokerage . The Brokerage is a social mobility charity with a long history (25 years) of brokering connections between corporate employers and talented young people from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds, many of whom are also from minoritised ethnic groups. We can help you take tangible actions that will open up access to your organisation, as well as look at the practices within your business that may be hampering your progress as an inclusive employer. We also know that there is increased demand amongst the ambitious young people we work with for exposure and experience within the tech sector and working with us will give you access to these individuals who may provide the answer to your future talent needs.

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