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‘Staggering’ lack of diversity in tech leadership, report reveals

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A report released by Inclusive Boards has highlighted the lack of diversity in tech leadership, affecting women with particular severity, as well as people from ethnic minority and lower-income backgrounds.

Inclusive Boards - an agency which supports organisations in efforts to diversify their governance - today published its ‘Tech Alliance’ report, which explored people in senior leadership positions in the technology sector. Inclusive Boards used data about the senior leadership of 500 of the UK’s largest technology companies, with demographic data for 1,882 executives and 1,696 board members.

The report found that the sector has fallen seriously short in representing women, as well as ethnic minorities and people from state school backgrounds.

“The tech sector is growing at a remarkable rate,” the report said. “The ‘tech revolution’ is perhaps the most significant change since the industrial revolution over two centuries ago. However, this rate of growth also brings significant challenges for the sector in terms of accessing a skilled and diverse pool of talent.”

Women make up just 13 per cent of board members and 17 per cent of senior executives in leading technology companies. By comparison, 29 per cent of board members are women across FTSE 100 businesses, many of which have made recent efforts to increase diversity in their senior leadership. Almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of technology companies had no women directors, while over two-fifths of executive teams were all-male.

The report highlighted the “pipeline challenge” facing the sector: the difficulty of recruiting women to senior leadership positions in tech while women remain severely underrepresented even in more junior STEM jobs. “The rhetoric that males are better at science and mathematics forces girls to believe that they are inadequate for tech roles,” the report stated.

Public efforts such as Stemettes, the Women in Science and Engineering campaign and IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year - as well as initiatives within businesses - are striving to improve representation of women in STEM, although change is slow.

While ethnic minority board members and executives were better represented in the tech sector than in FTSE 100 companies, senior leadership in tech does not yet fully represent the ethnic diversity of the UK. 11 per cent of senior leaders in top technology companies identify as belonging to an ethnic minority, compared with 14 per cent of the overall UK population and 40 per cent of the population of London (where many of these leading technology companies are based). Ethnic minority women fare worst of all, accounting for just 2 per cent of leadership in leading tech companies.

“The staggering discrepancy between men and women and the scant number of individuals from non-white backgrounds mean that efforts to achieve gender parity as well as societal representativeness must intensify,” Inclusive Boards said.

“To tackle gender inequality and improve ethnic diversity, organisations at all levels of the sector should make use of their resources and creativity to build inclusive environments. With the tech sector expanding at rapid pace and contributing to the economy more than other sectors, it is imperative that it begins to mirror the people whom it serves.”

The report also highlighted a culture of “elitism” in the UK tech sector with regards to social background. 35 per cent of tech board members and 26 per cent of their senior executives attended either Oxford or Cambridge University, compared with just 1 per cent of the overall UK population. Meanwhile, just 41 per cent of senior leaders attended comprehensive schools, compared with 88 per cent of the overall population, while over a third (37 per cent) of tech board members and 31 per cent of senior executives attended private schools, compared with 7 per cent of the overall population.

The most socially elite tech companies included Bloom and Wild, Go Cardless and Iseo Digital Health, which had boards with 100 per cent private or grammar school and Russell Group university educations.

Despite sub-par results for representation of women, ethnic minorities and working-class people in the tech sector, the report did find that senior leaders in this sector tended to be younger than in other sectors, averaging 47.6 years old (compared with 60.3 years old for FTSE 150 companies).

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