Leeds is now a major digital hub, transformed over the past decade or so into one of the fastest growing tech sectors in the UK. Hence why we at Clarion were very excited to gather together, in one room, more than two dozen representatives from across the tech sector.
Those joining us came from a broad cross-section of the tech industry, from early start ups to one of the largest independent tech companies in the country. They’d come together to attend our most recent Techtalk roundtable event, held at The Lost and Found Leeds Club, to debate the issue of diversity in their industry, and how it can be addressed to ensure sustainable growth in the sector.
While tech can be perceived as a male-dominated industry, we wanted to ensure gender parity among our attendees, allowing for a range of different voices and perspectives. Guest speaker Zandra Moore, CEO of panintelligence, a leading vendor of business intelligence software, is particularly passionate about this topic. Zandra is also the founder of Lean In Leeds a 400+ women’s leadership network and was recently awarded CRNs Entrepreneur of the Year and CEO of the year in the English Women’s Awards North.
In her talk, Zandra highlighted the importance of strong role models for women. Her own mother had run a team within a tech firm and Zandra was raised believing she could achieve anything she set her mind to. Her mother had shown her that the tech industry wasn’t one to be feared or to feel isolated from because she was female, but one that would embrace her and value her worth, as it had her mother’s, meaning she never felt limited by her gender.
Zandra’s success in a male-dominated industry like tech was in part down to the fact that she was taught to believe that she could achieve, regardless of her gender. The problem, as our next speaker, Clarion’s very own Steve Crow, outlined, is that gender stereotypes are established in people so early and so intrinsically, it can be difficult to combat their effects. Every stereotypical representation of men and women that exists in our culture adds to the probability that children will grow up with the same gendered outlook that ultimately leads to barriers in employment, including when choosing a career in tech.
Children limited by stereotypes
A report released last year on the career aspirations of seven-11 year olds determined that, from a very young age, most children categorise jobs according to gender and their career choices are based on these beliefs. It also demonstrated that girls as young as seven think that women are less intelligent than men.
The report, called “Drawing the Future: exploring the career aspirations of children from around the world”, asked 20,000 children to draw a picture of what they wanted to do when they grew up. It revealed that, throughout the UK, not only gender, but also socio-economic background, limit the aspirations of children when it comes to future employment.
Ethnicity can also be an issue where diversity in the tech industry is concerned. It was pointed out during discussion at the Techtalk that diversity is intrinsically tied to innovation. Nor does it matter what the diversity is – whether gender, race, sexual orientation or disability – it offers an advantage. When companies commit themselves to diversity in the workplace, they are more innovative, they are better able to attract top talent, improve customer experience and employee satisfaction.
Discovering other talent pipelines
And while unemployment levels are currently incredibly low, a lack of investment in training and education in key industries, combined with an ageing population of skilled workers heading into retirement, has left severe skills shortages in various sectors. Jonathan Simms, a partner in Clarion’s Corporate Team, observed that diversity and inclusivity are a perfect path to resolve these issues, and pointed out that organisations are investigating other talent pipelines to find more workers, including prison and the military.
There are currently about 11 million people in the UK with criminal convictions, including ex-offenders who’ve served prison sentences. These people have a wide range of different skills, qualifications and experiences that businesses not only could use, but actually really need. Companies are also turning to ex-military servicepeople in their search for new staff. Ex-soldiers, just like ex-prisoners, can make very good employees, with a skillset that any manager would value. However, much like ex-prisoners, ex-servicepeople often face discrimination when it comes to finding employment, with people viewing them as “damaged goods”.
Flexibility in the workplace
Including different people, with different experiences and different perspectives, within an organisation is vital to building a culture that is more open, vibrant and positive. It also means building trust in your employees and putting in place the kind of environment that will help people succeed, by supporting them with their work-life balance. For a lot of women, flexibility in the workplace – ensuring they can work from home, start late or finish early, or take time out of the office when they need to – is vital if they have children. The tech industry is one of the most advanced at giving its employees the freedom to work as they want to. Given the nature of their work, and their familiarity with the latest technological developments to aid remote working, tech companies have been able to adopt flexible working at a higher rate than other industries.
Esther Kirwan, a partner at Clarion and Head of our Intellectual Property Team, commented that this kind of flexibility is something we have also adopted at Clarion and it has really paid off, particularly as our staff is 75 percent female. It wasn’t a purposeful decision to hire so many women; we just chose the very best candidates, and this is reflected in the success of our firm, which has delivered extraordinary growth, year-on-year.
The legal sector, much like the tech industry, comes with a lot of stereotypes attached and the only way to fight them is by offering another way of doing things. As our firm, and people like Zandra Moore can attest, diversity among employees can pay dividends, if you choose to invest in it.
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