Attend a typical tech industry event and what do you find? Usually, a lot of white men in suits.
But the Parliament Internet, Communications and Technology forum (PICTFOR) are leading the way in trying to make a change. This is already a huge topic, with a number of companies having been formed to try and overcome these problems, but as Vicky Ford MP said at the recent PICTFOR Diversity in Tech event, “this is the day for the tech sector to respond”.
PICTFOR’s event was all about celebrating stories of inclusivity. To do this, they featured 15 speakers who covered how they work within the world of tech and fight the problems bias against gender, race, sexuality or disability.
Vicky Ford MP introduced the event reeling off a number of facts to show how women are at a disadvantage: only 1 in 4 female students consider a career in tech, and 15% of female students feel that they are not encouraged to pursue this career path.
These problems aren’t just societal issues. Gender stereotypes are entrenched in our thoughts from a young age. Carol Monaghan MP shared the story of her daughter, who at age 5 requested to play with “boys Lego” because it was more fun. Boys toys have moving parts, revolve around trains and engineering, whereas girls toys more often than not feature a doll.
But there are companies working towards fixing these stereotypes. Lydia Ragoonanan, Director of LORCA (London Office for Rapid Cyber Advancement) shared that she refuses to participate in panels that don’t offer diverse representation, and Lara Pierce, CEO of Auris Tech Ltd said that she will only sign contracts if they are in both the masculine and feminine voice. After all, when taking into account both genders, you tend to notice problems that you may have missed. Lara also pointed out that we can make small changes which will in turn make the world of difference to somebody, such as changing the fonts on our websites to a dyslexic-friendly font.
It’s not just gender problems that the tech industry faces. As Barry T. Whyte, Co-Founder of Series Q pointed out, whilst large companies may have various networks for individuals to connect, tech startups lack these initiatives and so individuals may not find a safe place to speak out in their environment. Over 60% of graduates hide their sexuality in their first job, so this is where things need to change.
So, after hearing from 15 speakers who spoke about why they are passionate about making a difference, the parting question they left us with was how do we better ensure everyone can participate in the UK’s digital economy?