Diversity in tech – it’s time to mix things up

Published on December 18, 2015

Whether gender or race, the lack of diversity in the tech world constantly remains a hot topic. Based on Fortune’s latest research into the problem, they found that on average, women comprise about one-third and white males make up 76% of the workforce at the nine tech companies surveyed. The figures clearly show that it’s still predominantly white boys ruling the offices in the major tech companies.

We know it’s an issue, but what active steps are being taken to change it? Recently I stumbled across some organizations that are addressing this issue in a charitable way, their efforts have the potential to change the dynamic of our industry for the better.

At Beyond, we’re encouraged to keep up to date with what’s hot in the startup world and what’s disrupting the market. Whilst trawling through copious amounts of bootstrap sites and cheesy straplines, I came across a few startups that are doing some great work around diversity and tech. These startups are looking to tap into areas where there is large unemployment but potential is often overlooked.

My first find was Andela.

Andela scouts and trains untapped talent in Africa to fill the skills gap that is rapidly growing in the technology industry. Andela specifically started recruiting students in Nigeria; a country with a population of 185 million, half of whom are between 15 and 34 years of age. Unemployment in the youth population is as high as 50%, meaning there is huge potential workforce, hungry for an opportunity.

The world needs developers and technology has the largest growing skills gap. A Payscale report shows that 1 in 10 IT organizations feel they have the skills in their business to be successful and roughly three out of four students and educators report a moderate to major gap in their ability to meet the skill needs of the IT workforce. According to a recent study by CareerBuilder, tech and computer jobs are especially hard to fill, with 71 percent of companies with unfilled positions seeking qualified workers in technology or math. Many school curriculums are fundamentally out of date and fail to teach the more technology focused skills required for careers in digital. Andela’s founder Jeremy Johnson speaks about a refocus on education saying, ”When you look at the skills that are most in demand, they are actually mostly in technology and mostly shifting faster than universities are structured to be able to support those skills”. In an attempt to fill this need, many new technology schools have been founded but, from my own experience, I can tell you that they don’t come cheap.

The students from Andela actually make money while they learn, as Fortune 500 companies and startups are paying Andela to find trainees. Johnson states that in return, the companies get a 95 percentile problem solving software developer, with over 1,000 + hours technical training for half the price that it would normally cost to hire someone.

Here, Jeremy Johnson explains Andela’s value to Nigerians and the rest of the world:

But what about helping with youth unemployment in your own backyard?

My second find was Resilient Coders

Resilient Coders is an organization that teaches young people, from traditionally underserved communities, how to code and hopefully set them up on a new career path. The founder, David Demar, describes Resilient Coders as “a free, volunteer-based program focused on making web technology more available to kids who might not otherwise be exposed to it. We work typically with teens who are either incarcerated, or living in underserved communities. We believe that technical aptitude is a social issue”.

Here is a class in action:

Try as I might, I couldn’t find an equivalent in the UK but hopefully I missed something. At the time of Tech City 2015’s report, there were 45k digital jobs being advertised in the UK. Digital employment growth is forecasted to be 5.4% higher than total job growth by 2020.

Time and time again, the need for diversity and skills within the technology industry is highlighted. I cannot help but feel that if more startups, like Andela and Resilient Coders, established themselves in the UK, these issues could be addressed.

Not all is lost, companies such as Code club and Code.org are helping the next generation into the tech industry. Code.org is asking developers for an hours volunteer time to teach young school kids about the world of HTML and CSS. It’s something here at Beyond our coders would like to be involved with.And in our New York office, the team recently invited 20 underprivileged high school students from the Bronx into their office to inspire them about the tech industry. We are hoping to do a similar thing in the UK office.

As a new and exciting industry we have the chance to set things right before there is a long legacy of discrimination and prejudices resulting in tighter a culture bubble, as Micah Singleton points out “The tech industry exists in a culture bubble, a select few trying to create the tools of the future for billions, without those billions being properly represented” If every technology company did something about the problem like the charities above, I believe natural prejudices would be confronted and the tech culture bubble would burst. Different backgrounds would increase capacity for creativity and fresh ideas. Something, I think we can all agree, would be no bad thing.