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20,000 black women may be missing from the UK tech industry, according to a recent study published by campaigners and a leading non-profit fighting for a more diverse landscape.
The report published by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and campaigning group Coding Black Females (CBF) found black women only make up 0.7 per cent of IT professionals across the country despite constituting 1.8 per cent of the UK workforce.
An extra 20,000 black women would need to be recruited in addition to the 12,000 women already working in tech in order to bridge this gap.
Speaking to the BBC, Charlene Hunter MBE, a BCS Board member and CEO of CBF, said that “high-stakes fields like data science and cyber security desperately need many more technologists from a diverse range of backgrounds.”
She stressed her particular concerns for the lack of diversity in AI, noting that its under-representation of minorities can cause AI systems to display bias against different ethnicities and genders.
Tech’s big problem
The three-part study conducted in-depth interviews of over 350 black women working in the tech sector and compared it to the Office for National Statistics data.
While some black women told researchers they felt blocked by issues such as a lack of flexible working opportunities, others pointed to the toxic ‘tech bro’ culture that continues to prevail in some organisations within the sector.
Siba Munsanje, a software engineer at Deloitte, was one of the women interviewed by researchers at BCS. She told researchers that, as a black woman, you need to “get used to knowing that you are the only one in the room, in the team, at the conference.”
Nicola Martin, head of quality engineering at Adarga, echoed a similar message, telling researchers that “the tech industry needs to encourage more diversity to ensure people want to stay in the industry.”
She added that “now stats are being published related to diversity in tech, we can see there is still a lot of work to do.”
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In a survey conducted alongside the study, 67% of black women felt they faced more barriers to entry into tech than women from other ethnicities in a survey carried out as a part of the study, with 23% saying current diversity and inclusion policies are having a negative effect on their ability to progress within the industry.
Charlene Hunter, said that the experiences described by black women working in tech demonstrate that there are barriers preventing minorities from getting a job in tech.
Speaking to the BBC, Ms Hunter said: "We need senior leaders to match the large numbers of black women currently appearing in tech and engineering adverts, with genuine opportunities to progress into rewarding jobs.”
Calls for change
Experts and tech leaders have warned that the tech industry can only build services to serve everyone if the diversity of the global population is truly represented within the teams that design those systems.
BCS’s report found that the percentage of women in IT has barely increased over years from 17% in 2017 to 22% in 2021.
If gender representation in IT were equal to the national workplace average, there would need to be an additional 486,000 female IT specialists in the UK, according to the study.
Experts have long called for the tech industry to improve its inclusivity and encourage people from different backgrounds to work, and progress, within the sector.
Hundreds of Studies, such as one by Mckinsey & Company, have proven that by having a solid diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programme, the enterprise can increase productivity, build a positive organisational culture, and spark innovation.