21 Aug 2020
21 Aug 2020
BCS hosted an awkward conversation about diversity - or lack thereof - in the tech industry. From diversity and inclusion policies as ‘box-checking’ exercises, to glass ceilings and the Black Lives Matter movement: the frank conversation touched on many sensitive topics. Blair Melsom MBCS reports.

The webinar featured leading thinkers from across the tech sector:

  • Dorothy Monekosso, Professor of Computer Science at Leeds Beckett University
  • Nzube Ufodike, entrepreneur, mentor at Wayra UK and Vice-Chair of BCS Central London Branch
  • Dr Ip-Shing Fan, Senior Lecturer in Enterprise Systems, Cranfield University and Chair of BCS Bedford Branch

And was chaired by Aneka Goulbourne, Marketing Manager at BCS.

The panel discussed the IT industry’s defining diversity issues and offered solutions. Here’s a summary of its findings. For even more insight, watch the video in full.

On avoiding diversity awareness training becoming simply a ‘box checking’ activity

Ip-Shing: ‘We need to get the bigger picture. We need to create time for interaction with individuals to get to know each other, as well as making time for training.’

Monekosso: ‘We need to stop thinking in terms or statistics. We need to listen to people who know about these experiences. Policy makers need to listen do and understand the people they lead.’

Ufodike: ‘We need more incentive to ensure workforces represent the population… For example, if managers have a diversity related KPI that links to their bonus or performance metrics, then that will encourage them to take it more seriously. Targets, although slightly controversial, can be used to level the playing field and create some form of equity.’

On making change happen

Ip-Shing: ‘Do not feel victimised. Don’t let things stop you. Be the best you can be and that is the road to change… It is important to balance the whole perspective. While we are striving to break glass ceilings, we need to make sure they are broken for everybody, not for specific communities.’

Ufodike: ‘Sometimes being the best is not sufficient… [those in minority groups] have to work twice as hard to get half as good.’

Monekosso: ‘We cannot place the responsibility on the shoulders of individuals. There is a responsibility on leadership and there is a role in society for such issues.’

On career progression

Ip-Shing: ‘People in a position of authority and influence should create opportunities for multicultural interactions.’

Monekosso: ‘We have to go beyond thinking of a level playing field and teaching people how to write CVs... The career starts at CV writing, we all have 100 metres to run, except that for some, it feels more like Mt Kilimanjaro… It doesn’t get any easier, in fact it gets more difficult because the obstacles in front of you are that much higher.’

Ufodike: ‘It was through diversity events that I got to learn that there are people who look like me who seem to be working in a very stimulating environment… Being able to connect with colleagues and network [is what has helped most.’

On the importance of role models

Monekosso: ‘For me, it was a passion - it’s all I wanted to do. In that sense, I didn’t need a role model as engineering was flowing in my blood… It would help younger women to see more women, certainly more black women, in engineering… when deciding to enter, or stay, in the profession… There is an increasing number of young women entering, but they just don’t stay.’

Ufodike: ‘Role models are important, but there are other layers to it… The foundation of a supportive family was very important [for me]… I have had to seek out people to guide me in specific fields… They don’t have to look like me.’

Ip-Shing: ‘The idea of a role model is good to understand that the limits are not there. But, we need to build the concept that there is no ceiling.’

On the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement

Ufodike: ‘I’ve seen lots of initiatives tale place that are building on [the movement] to make more sustainable change… We are launching Embrace, a BCS specialist interest group, to look at racial diversity… raising awareness and increasing accessibility to BCS [for diverse communities] and to support organisations running diversity focused incursions.’

Monekosso: ‘Universities can be large, sluggish organisations... Hopefully they can take what has been happening in the private sector and learn from this.’

Ip-Shing: ‘Being able to use [the movement] as a platform to channel energy to create a more open and acceptable situation is going to be very good… We need to be mindful as we build our future structure, if we don’t address that “human beings failed each other” part, we may create unfairness within specific communities, which will get us out of the frying pan and into the fire. … It’s about making sure that everybody has the same access, concern, rights and opportunity.’

On what good diversity should look like in the future

Ip-Shing: ‘It will be when we simply see a person as a person. When the respect is there for everybody.’

Monekosso: ‘A future where we have equal numbers of female engineers as men. I love the Star Trek attitude of “live long and prosper” and the harmonious living conditions [amongst the characters]… We need to get our act together.’

Ufodike: ‘It is easy, without resilience, to be disheartened by a lot of the conversations taking place. Where we are today, is a lot further than we were 30 years ago and again, it will be very different 30 or 40 years in the future.’