Diversity, ethics and innovation in tech
The critical issue of diversity is now firmly on the agenda of companies across the tech sector, recognising the importance of ensuring opportunity for all and the adequate representation of all groups and communities in the industry. Analysis from BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, found that although more women than ever are working in tech they still only make up 20% of the workforce. Whilst Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers make up 18% of the tech workforce, this figure is distorted by the singular grouping of people characterised as BAME, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are often more highly represented in non-technical areas. The BCS report analysed the data around disability as well, finding that people with disabilities also remain underrepresented in the tech workforce.
The business case for diversity and inclusion, emphasising the link between diverse teams, better decisions and enhanced profitability, has become increasingly recognised across most sectors of the economy. However, particularly in the tech sector, the need to ensure the sufficient representation of marginalised groups is arguably more important than ever as the development and deployment of digital technologies throughout business and society is accelerated by circumstances brought about by the pandemic.
Research by McKinsey revealed that investment in AI is one of the key changes that companies view as helping to put them in a better place than before the crisis. But it is only by ensuring that the teams working on and with technologies like AI are truly diverse and representative of society that we can ensure a voice is given to every community and decrease the risk of translating harmful societal biases into these systems and algorithms. Teams that are diverse are better equipped to spot, anticipate, and avoid bias and deliver innovative and inclusive new technologies by ensuring potentially excluded groups are included in their design and delivery.
Critically, work in areas such as recruitment has shown that whilst AI can perpetuate human biases, if done in the right way it actually holds the distinct potential to mitigate and overcome such biases. Within our membership, MeVitae have developed tools that can automatically identify and remove information from CVs that may cause bias in company applicant tracking systems, and are also pressing forward with work on solutions to automate candidate shortlisting processes in a way that does not perpetuate existing societal prejudices.
As the UK aims to stay at the forefront of ethics and innovation when it comes to AI, techUK was pleased to see an emphasis on making diversity and inclusion a priority in the AI Council’s recent AI Roadmap. In particular, we welcome its recommendation that benchmarking and tracking be used to gather concrete data that can inform further decisions and actions aimed at ‘ensuring equal opportunities and inclusion for underrepresented groups in all programs’.
By redoubling our efforts to increase diversity in tech we can not only work towards the normative and societal goods of equal representation and inclusion, but also take important steps towards ensuring an ethical and sustainable approach to technology as a whole. And at the same time, by taking such an approach to technology, we can harness its innovative power in overcoming human bias in decision-making and delivering more equitable outcomes, creating a virtuous cycle as we seek to deliver technology that works for everyone.
techUK and its members are engaged in a range of work aimed at fostering diversity and inclusion and delivering an ethical approach to tech which encourages responsible innovation and works for everyone. To get involved with our work on diversity and inclusion please contact [email protected] or if you’d like to learn more about techUK’s work on digital ethics please contact [email protected].
Last year, techUK published a report Delivering Diversity highlighting the myriad of programmes, policies and practices that its members have put in place to help increase BAME representation and equity in their organisations, with the intention of sharing good practice across the sector to encourage and drive wider change. Members seeking to contribute to this living document should get in touch.
Jake has been the Policy Manager for Skills and Future of Work since May 2022, supporting techUK's work to empower the UK to skill, attract and retain the brightest global talent, and prepare for the digital transformations of the future workplace.
Previously, Jake was the Programme Assistant for Policy. He joined techUK in March 2019 and has also worked across the EU Exit, International Trade, and Cloud, Data Analytics and AI programmes.