Diversity in the tech sector: 24% feel discriminated against

Apr 25, 2019 | Digital marketing skills

The technology sector is currently expanding 2.5 times faster than any other in the UK, but while it can attract a more diverse talent pool, many from minority groups feel stress and discrimination, according to a new report.

The BIMA Tech Inclusion & Diversity Report identifies urgent areas of improvement in the workplace.

Key findings:

  • Major study reveals significant levels of discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, age and neurodivergence in tech sector
  • Tech workforce as stressed as those in the NHS and 5x more depressed than the UK average
  • Although the industry has a higher proportion of neurodivergent people than the UK average, 24% feel negatively discriminated against
  • With ¼ of workers self-taught and 30% without a university degree, agile talent strategies are crucial for the future of the industry

The results of the first official study to explore the experiences of diverse members of the UK tech sector are revealed today.

The BIMA Tech Inclusion & Diversity Report identifies the need for urgent areas of improvement in workplace mental health and discrimination, as well as highlighting untapped opportunities for employee talent and development that will help the UK’s booming digital economy grow.

Stress: At 66%, the report indicates that stress levels within the tech sector are higher than the UK workplace average and equal to those reported in the health service1. 13% of workers report that their daily lives are affected by symptoms including headaches, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, indigestion, and continual tiredness.

Four in five of workers with long term health issues, sufferers of anxiety and depression, and the neurodivergent, report experiencing stress ‘constantly’ or ‘sometimes’. Although stress among gay and lesbian respondents (61%) is lower than that for heterosexual respondents (65 %), figures for bisexuals and those self-describing their sexuality are significantly higher (76%).

Anxiety & Depression: The report finds that the tech sector has a significant problem with anxiety and depression, with over half (52%) of the study’s respondents reporting that they have suffered from anxiety or depression at some point, a figure at least five times the national average.

Incidences of anxiety and depression in the workplace are much more frequent in the neurodivergent (84%) (those with conditions including Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia) compared to the neurotypical (49%). Anxiety and depression are also more likely to affect women (21%) than men (16%).

If the sector is to retain these workers and allow them to achieve their full potential, companies need to establish and improve stress-reduction strategies and mental health awareness, particularly for groups found to be at risk.

Discrimination: Discrimination appears to be pervasive in the tech sector, with over a fifth (22%) of respondents feeling their career progression has been discriminated against in some way. This number rises among women, of whom 35% believe their gender has negatively affected their career progression. Ethnicity is also a significant factor: 40% of Afro-Caribbean and mixed heritage and almost one third (31%) of Asian and Southeast Asian respondents say they have experienced negative discrimination as a result of their ethnicity.

24% of neurodivergent employees in the tech sector have reported negative discrimination – a big issue in an industry with twice the UK average of neurodivergent people. While many technology companies have specific initiatives to recruit people with neurodivergence, the results suggest growth and development structures may not always be sufficient.

Untapped opportunities: The results were encouraging in terms of how open the sector is to people from different educational backgrounds, suggesting a career in tech doesn’t have to start with a privileged upbringing or a university education. 3 in 10 respondents did not attend university, one quarter (23%) are self-taught and one fifth (20%) are from C2DE backgrounds (the three lowest socio-economic groups). These findings suggest broader talent strategies that don’t just look to universities to find talent can prove fruitful.

The BIMA Tech Inclusion & Diversity Report provides action points for both employers and individuals under each of the key findings. It also lists the top six practical steps to create a more diverse workforce, including making sure initiatives are underpinned by data from diverse groups in the workforce, not assumptions, and prioritising supporting managers to spot and understand issues being faced by their teams.

In late 2018 and early 2019, the UK’s digital trade body, BIMA, surveyed 3,333 people, representing almost 5% of the UK tech workforce, to explore their experience of diversity as members of the technology community.

Nadya Powell, Chair of the BIMA Diversity & Inclusion Council says, “The findings of the BIMA Tech Inclusion & Diversity Report compel us to action – it provides a clear sign-post on what to do next. Within the tech sector we have a mental health crisis and discrimination is rife; we must act before more lives are affected. There are green shoots – the barrier to entry is much lower than other industries, creating a genuine opportunity for diverse individuals to transfer into the industry, at whatever stage of life. And Neurodivergent communities are choosing Tech as a sector where they can potentially thrive. So let’s honestly confront both the challenges and the opportunities, and together, build an inclusive Tech sector open to all.”

Natalie Gross, BIMA Co-President says, “The BIMA Tech Inclusion & Diversity Report is the first of its kind for our industry. It gives us further impetus to support the industry and build strategies for change. But we can’t do it alone. We all need to change. We all need to be challenged to do more. This report contains many action points, but if we want those points to become embedded principles, we need an industry-wide task force to take them forward and ensure change happens. And we need government to ensure that across every industry, diversity receives the resources it needs. BIMA will continue to work with our membership, other industry associations, government, business and education – to communicate, collaborate and take action.”

The full report is available to download at www.bima.co.uk

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