Raheem Sterling and ethnicity in UK IT

BCS has published a draft version of the second part of its definitive four-part series of evidence-based reports exploring equality and diversity in the IT workforce. Can you help us build a picture of the experiences of people from ethnic minorities in UK IT?

Those who follow football will be aware of the ongoing comment (outside mainstream media) on the treatment of Manchester City midfielder Raheem Sterling. Most of this has focused on the way his lifestyle is treated in some of the UK’s most popular newspapers - and is widely held to reflect treatment of race. This is not the place to discuss those details - but is a good way of introducing the currency of issues facing people of non-white ethnicities in society in general - and in employment in particular.

The research BCS has undertaken, alongside an analysis of existing research, shows that trends on employment of BAME people in IT are not good. Interestingly the race and ethnicity numbers appear to be more favourable than those for gender and disability bias. It's true to say that we don’t have a complete picture of all the issues - and we don’t claim to have all the answers, but we can, and feel we should, start the conversation.

BCS’s key aim is to make IT good for society. Part of that aim is informed by the professionals that make up, not only BCS membership, but the IT profession as a whole. We know that products, services, apps and programs are better when developed by a diverse group of people. And that diversity, of course, includes ethnicity.

BCS wants to enhance the trust that we all need in the IT profession, and that trust is informed and benefited when it includes a representative mix of ethnicities.

Comparative to other sectors, the research has an interesting story to tell about diversity in IT. For example, in 2017, the median hourly earnings recorded for BAME IT specialists working in the UK stood at £22 per hour - an amount 11% higher than that recorded for IT specialists as a whole (£19 per hour) and 73% higher than that for all BAME workers in the UK at that time (£13 per hour) - these figures are for full-time permanent employees. There is a corollary here: namely that there is a big issue around international BAME and British BAME. British BAME people are far more disadvantaged, so, whilst the figures are lumped in together there is a more nuanced view that we can’t fully reflect with the numbers alone.

Whilst disability and gender were seen as bigger barriers by members as to what they considered the ‘main barrier to getting a first job in IT’ - 5% considered race to be the top answer. The same percentage considered race the top barrier when answering causes for barriers to ‘progressing in an IT career’.

In the free text answers BCS asked for by way of elaboration we had several occurrences of terms that which we could also justifiably see as euphemisms for race. My feeling (editorialising ahead) is that there is an understandable diffidence to say things outright and the ideals of open discussion have some way to go.

Inevitably, too, in a country with an unbalanced racial and ethnic demographic, there are regional variation: Representation of individuals from BAME ethnic groups amongst the IT professions across the UK varies from just 6% in the South West of England to 32% in London. The full research expands on this.

We had a rich seam of suggestions of what to do to address some of these issues (and thee apply to the other three areas the research covers too - age, disability and gender). Here are some of those thoughts:

  1. Raising the profile of role models.
  2. Ensuring that there are processes in organisations to monitor training, bonuses and promotion opportunities and how they are taken up by women, BAME people and those with disabilities. This requires a level of openness and honesty, of course.
  3. Pressure government for better research figures on inclusivity - again, this is about open conversation. Note: This is happening - see the race disparity audit (insert https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/race-disparity-audit)
  4. Try to anonymise parts of the recruitment where possible - for example, accepting CVs without names.
  5. Increasing the use of BAME people in interview process and on interview panels.

For point three, above, in addition to the race disparity research we have the ONS Quarterly Labour Force Survey, which the BCS report also analyses.

A main theme that comes through from many who want it see improvement is taking personal responsibility - a member comments: ‘I’m white, male and lead on this for my department. I’ve been asked by other managers why I bother - and don’t I have anything better to do. Policy is one thing - attitude is a much greater barrier.’

To fill out this research we would be interested in hearing any other member experiences in this area - anonymously or otherwise. The draft research is on the members' area of the website.

Please email editor@bcs.org if you would like to share your experience.

About the author

Brian is Head of Content at BCS and blogs about the Institute’s role in making IT good for society, historical developments in computing, the implications of CS research and more.

See all posts by Brian Runciman
April 2019
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