Tech’s diversity problem and why it matters
The digital world is an environment built for people, by people. Millions of design decisions are made daily which digitally re-architect society, transforming the structures and encounters that fill our lives. But if the architects, builders, makers and shapers of this digital world are not reflective of the diverse make-up of our society, how can we create a world that is genuinely inclusive of people from different backgrounds? Put simply, we can’t. Which is why it’s essential that we work together to improve diversity in tech, to bring more perspectives into the industry and build a better world for everyone.
Just 15% of the tech workforce are from BAME backgrounds.
A lack of diverse backgrounds represented in the tech industry will have lasting, detrimental impacts on society. The problematic effects of companies who have created products without input from women or people of colour are already being seen – NASA spacesuits designed specifically for male bodies, health apps that ignore women’s health, and other biases built into AI software, exacerbating inequalities. Medicine is less safe for women, especially black women. Women are less likely to be prescribed a prosthesis, if you have heart failure, it will take longer to get an electrocardiogram, and if you are over 50 and fall seriously ill, you are less likely to receive potentially life-saving interventions. These issues are gaining a lot of interest - especially that solutions to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are only being worked on by a more privileged minority, mostly white men who are able to raise sufficient funding from other men.
A lot of facial recognition software can almost perfectly identify white faces, but can’t consistently identify people with darker skin tones. This is because a narrow pool of developers have trained algorithms in data featuring primarily white faces. The consequences of this bias are major when these softwares are incorporated into job hiring processes or criminal justice settings, to name a few, explained by Dr. Joy Buolamwini, computer scientist and digital activist based at the MIT Media Lab in a TED Talk. She believes that fixing these biases starts with the people that are writing code. “What can we do about it? Well, we can start thinking about how we create more inclusive code and employ inclusive coding practices. It really starts with people.”
Gender diversity in tech is currently at 19% compared to 49% for all other jobs (UKIE).
We see that when women, racial and ethnic minorities and other underrepresented groups develop their tech skills and apply them, amazing things happen. Throughout history, people from various backgrounds have been responsible for huge breakthroughs which have changed the world – Ada Lovelace developed the world’s first ever computer algorithm, Margaret Hamilton wrote the code that landed humans on the moon, and codebreaker Alan Turing was fundamental to helping to end World War Two.
In more recent times, Tania Boler founded femtech company Elvie, helping millions of women worldwide. Tania says she was motivated by the lack of products with women in mind: “I realised just how badly women have been treated by tech. Most products have been made by men.”
Chieko Asakawa pioneered assistive voice technologies that help the visually impaired and others with disabilities to have the same access to the internet’s vast informational resources and creative content as others. As a result of her work, everyone can utilise and enjoy the use of text-to-speech.
Black trans activist Angelica Ross says, “technology saved my life”, having learned how to code and design websites for companies. Now she helps employ transgender people in the tech industry.
Arlan Hamilton, launched her own VC fund Backstage Capital, aiming to minimize disparities in funding within the tech industry. “It was crazy to me that 90% of venture funding was going to white men, when that is not how innovation, intelligence, and drive is dispersed in the real world.” Arlan’s fund invests in hundreds of underrepresented founders, helping them to develop innovative tech for underserved communities.
The equality gap is keeping the tech sector, known for innovation and forward thinking, from achieving as much as it possibly can.
There is an enormous opportunity to bring new skill sets, more creativity, more problem solving and more innovative solutions if we increase interest, access and participation in tech skills amongst under-represented communities. A diverse workforce could generate £490 billion in new value for the economy and untold benefits for society.
A study by McKinsey found that diverse companies perform better, hire better talent, have more engaged employees, and retain workers better than companies that do not focus on diversity and inclusion, with companies now spending billions on such efforts. And yet, diversity and inclusion remains a key challenge in the tech sector.
So… how did we get here?
Gender stereotypes that suggest engineering and problem solving are not for girls. Young girls are subject to outdated gender stereotypes that strongly imply ‘coding is more for boys’ - also unsurprising since the vast majority of coding tools, toys and games are built by men, and there are far more male role models in the tech industry. These stereotypes often lead to a lifelong lack of confidence in STEM and problem solving. Learning to code is actually a lot like learning a new language - it is creative, fun and beneficial to all of us beyond our future careers.
Gendered marketing further reinforces the problem. Try typing ‘games for girls’ into Google to see the kinds of games that are being developed for girls! The ‘Pink Aisle’ in kids’ toy stores is another lazy and harmful way to try and market and sell products for girls, as opposed to using creativity and storytelling to inspire girls as well as boys. Rather than choosing to be inclusive and diverse, gaming franchises and retailers which use gendered marketing subject children to harmful stereotypes and further marginalise those in minority and underrepresented communities.
Not enough female and ethnic minority students are pursuing computer science subjects. Just 21% of GCSE computing students are girls.
Lack of role models and mentors from underrepresented groups. Role models are essential to reach and inspire young people, so they are aware of tech as a real option for their futures and understand what their opportunities are.
Underrepresented groups are more likely to be overlooked for opportunities to get hands-on experience with tech skills from an early age. A lack of exposure to digital skills and relevant information during school years makes a career in tech much less likely.
Imposter syndrome, lack of access to funding and inadequate child support are also important factors that prevent people from a career in tech.
“These numbers do reveal the lack of representation of LGBTQ+ community across STEM fields, and when you look at figures for senior leaders, the numbers are even more worrying.” Inclusive Tech Alliance
The demand for workers in the technology sector means that we must do everything we can to encourage more underrepresented groups into tech. This sector is growing 3x faster than the overall economy, and the rapid expansion of the workforce has resulted in coding and engineering skills being the most sought-after skills in the job market.
Finding a solution
It is widely acknowledged that to have the greatest impact, efforts to attract underrepresented groups into tech must start at a young age. Research by Accenture and Girls Who Code reveals that girls who play computer games when they are young are 4x more likely to go into computing or coding roles as adults than those who don’t. This highlights an opportunity to spark interest in girls and underrepresented groups by introducing them to coding in fun ways.
A lot of successful people in tech were first inspired to learn to code because they played video games as a kid and wanted to make their own. But because most games and coding tools out there are designed by men, they often lack diverse characters and don’t appeal to a broad audience, including girls. By tailoring educational resources to appeal to the needs of all kids, we can boost their commitment to computing and inspire them by reframing their perception of digital skills and associated opportunities.
To help inspire a broader representation of children to learn future skills to become the shapers and good citizens of the digital hybrid worlds ahead, we created Erase All Kittens. An online coding adventure game that teaches transferable digital skills and introduces future skills to more children, through fun gameplay and interactive storytelling.
Designed with inclusivity in mind, EAK’s Mario-style gameplay blends humorous and quirky interactive dialogue (replacing lines of repetitive instructions), instant results mechanics and rewards which boost confidence, positive encouragement around trial and error, gender-diverse main characters and quirky kitten cards to enhance positive emotions and stress-relief.
Kids enjoy learning because they want to play and explore.
There is still a lot more work to be done to improve diversity and inclusion in tech and inspire interest in coding. Children should be exposed to coding and tech skills throughout their lives not just to encourage the development of future STEM talent, but because it plays a huge role in life - and no child should be left behind. These skills are useful in any career, and with Erase All Kittens we aim to create a more equal playing field on which every child has the chance to explore their potential and go down a path which will allow them access to exciting opportunities in the future.
Erase All Kittens is a multi-award-winning online adventure game for ALL humans aged 7+ that places a strong emphasis on building up confidence, creativity and critical thinking skills. It is the only game that learners can build and fix using real source code (just like a developer). Every character and coding mechanic in EAK’s story-filled universe has been designed to spark the imagination of children so they feel comfortable, confident, and able to express themselves in today’s modern world.
EAK has 170,000 players in over 100 countries, 55% are girls (other coding tools average 18%), and 95% want to learn more about coding after playing.