Diversity in UK technology sector

Women and minorities in tech suffer more stress and discrimination

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The BIMA Tech Inclusion & Diversity Report reveals that diverse members working in tech experience higher levels of stress and poor mental health, and face more discrimination in their careers.

A new study focusing on workers in technology uncovered significant levels of discrimination against gender, ethnicity, age and neurodivergence.

The initiative, orchestrated by BIMA, a non-profit representing the digital industry in the UK, conducted online surveys with 3,333 workers in the technology sector. They found that self-reported depression levels exceeded five-fold those reported for the national workers' average.

The Tech workforce was found to feel at levels similar to workers in the NHS workforce, which have been found to face notoriously high levels of stress and pressure.  

The report points out that UK's tech industry overall would benefit from a higher proportion of neurodivergent (a set of diverse neurological conditions and a result of normal variations in the human genome, including autism, dyslexia and others) than the national average, it would not provide the group with remedy in stress levels. Nearly one in four (24 per cent) of this group felt negatively discriminated against.

General stress levels are higher in the UK technology sector, with 66 per cent of respondents reporting feeling stressed; higher than average in UK workplaces. 13 per cent would notice it on a daily basis, which materialises in headaches, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, indigestion, and continual tiredness.

Michael Olaye, CEO at Dare, discussed the results at a panel at the report's launch event. He reminded listeners of the importance of making friends at work. He added that the results came as a surprise to him because many workers would suffer in silence from stress and anxiety: “You might know who in the business might be stressed and who might not be but no one says anything. That [results by the study] was a shock to me”.

The report accuses the UK tech sector of having a significant problem with anxiety and depression, with over half (52 per cent) of study respondents reporting that they have suffered from anxiety or depression at some point: a figure at least five times above the national average.

Anxiety and depression among diverse groups, such as LGBT+ people are also found elevated, compared how the average worker feels in the tech sector.

Discrimination was also found to be 'pervasive' in the sector. 22 per cent of respondents felt their career progression has been affected by discrimination against them. Among neurodivergent people, nearly one in four recalled instances of discrimination. 

Perhaps most alarming were the results for female respondents, where 35 per cent believed their gender negatively affected their career progression. According to PwC, women make up 15 per cent of employees working in STEM roles in the UK and are found to be more scarce among leadership positions, with merely one in 20 of such positions held by women.

Ethnicity seems also to play a significant role. 40 per cent of Afro-Caribbean and those of mixed heritage - which together made up 7 per cent of the survey sample - and 31 per cent of Asian and Southeast Asian respondents reported negative discrimination as a result of their ethnicity.

Despite the larger range of results published by BIMA, the sample of the survey was found to be skewed towards 25 to 44-year-olds (67 per cent of respondents). Just seven per cent of respondents were people aged of 55 or older.

Feedback and steps forward

Misconceptions and bias of neurodivergent groups are far-flung, even among those who try to improve the scene. When Michael Vermeersch, now digital inclusion lead at Microsoft, was nominated to volunteer as diversity and inclusion champion of his department, it was due to his colleagues who felt his behavior was different: “I didn't know that. They didn't tell me. They said my behavior is different because I am from Belgium. But I am actually autistic. This was part of my journey”.

The report also proposed a six-step approach to tackle bias, featuring advice for companies in the sector on how to up their level to pay more attention. Progress in the field, says Amali de Alwis MBE, CEO at CodeFirst: Girls, would only start when firms become active: “You just going to have to get started with this. We are all a bit crap at it. You are not alone. The thing that differentiates companies who will improve this is not being awesome and good at it now, but having the will to drive change and start to take steps.”  

“While many technology companies have specific initiatives to recruit people with neurodivergence, the results suggest growth and development structures may not always be sufficient,” the report states.

Nancy Rowe, Head of inclusion and diversity at Publicis Sapient, said that the results underpin the importance of inclusion: “We may all be chasing after data of representation of diverse groups, but even if we get anywhere near in achieving those targets quoted, we are really only half way there, because we can have those populations represented within our businesses but if we are not creating businesses that actually work for them we are not completing the job”.

In addition to findings on increased stress and discrimination among women, a new report published zooms in on venture capital deal-making and women in founding teams. It highlights that UK's VC firms that have few female decision makers and that founder teams with at least one women are less likely to receive follow-on funding.

Last week, an email chain from within Microsoft was leaked to news outlet Quartz, featuring experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination shared by women.

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