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Encouraging diversity in technology

Encouraging diversity in technology 1

By Lauren Marsden, Director, EMEA Sales at Forcepoint

Technology is now involved in every aspect of our lives and never more so than now. The world’s biggest companies now have no factories and are responsible for no physical products. The technology industry commands huge presence and influence, and so it’s important that there’s strong representation across every section of society within its workforce who have the right skills.

This is especially important in the financial services industry, with technology becoming imperative for success in the sector. As technology has developed, customer expectations have risen, demanding instant and personalised services from financial services. In addition, we’ve seen the introduction of newer fintechs with different operating models and cultures, which as a result has put pressure on traditional players to adopt new technologies in order to keep up. As such, financial services are quickly becoming technology companies in their own right, with many providing banking apps and other online services to give customers the experiences they have come to expect.

When it comes to finding talent, according to PwC, nearly 80% of financial services industry leaders are looking for a broader range of skills. It’s clear encouraging greater inclusion is a critical part of meeting these new talent demands.

Businesses that are more inclusive and diverse generate better results, and often come up with better ideas and innovation. This innovation is what sets market leaders apart from the followers, and so any company that’s serious about getting ahead, also needs to take diversity equally as seriously.

Technology isn’t always about the technical

As children and young people, we often develop preconceptions about what certain industries might be like. So, when we’re presented with career options as we come through higher education, some people automatically rule themselves out from particular career paths – without grounds to do so. Information technology is a case in point. Sadly, in my experience IT has been represented as something you need strong technical qualifications and a computing or mathematical background to get into. In fact, careers within technology are much more diverse, and can be right for a far wider range of people than you might think. Especially in financial services. There’s a whole chain of technology sales, support and account management out there which requires people with completely different skillsets to those that are hands-on with the tech itself.

Where I work, within the IT channel at Forcepoint, 80% of the team is female, and there’s a strong gender split in the sector more broadly. Diversity of personnel brings along an equivalent diversity of thought – the perfect environment for great ideas, new innovation and different thinking. As a woman in the channel, I can confidently say that we often have a different approach, worldview and way of thinking that can add real value. While it can sometimes to be intimidating to go into a room full of businessmen, knowing clearly where your own strengths and weaknesses lie allows you to be true to yourself, and thrive even in environments where there is still work to be done around diversity and representation.

Diversity is much broader than just gender. Everything from age to ethnicity, sexuality to neurodiversity – if companies only recruit from the same small pool of people, or in the likeness of those already in senior positions, they’re putting themselves at a huge disadvantage. Products created by those working in information technology are used the world over. We need full representation from people of all characteristics and backgrounds during the development process to make sure that what’s being created is appropriate for all.

Culture comes from the top

Employers also need to be proactively taking action around this issue, and be making policy changes and putting measures in place to attract, recruit and retain fully diverse workforces. Following a UK Finance discussion earlier this year, it’s clear diversity and inclusion is integral to company culture within financial services, and firms must recognise the increasing regulatory requirements, particularly from a data perspective within the space.

Organisations need to instil a culture of honesty, openness and fairness. In some ways, the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, and the changes in the ways that many of us work, have humanised us. We’re more aware of our colleagues’ family commitments or life pressures then we might have once been. Employers must take this seriously, and put measures and policies in place to better support us all – whether full or part-time, parent or carer, in a single-person or multi-generational household – everyone needs support. Hybrid working has brought down some of the barriers to landing a role, but giving employees more space to manage both their personal and work lives will make careers in IT and security much more appealing to those groups who are less represented in the industry.

Individual team leads and managers also play a pivotal role in setting the culture and ethos of an organisation. Your team has to not only believe in what the company is doing, but also you as a manager. If you yourself aren’t bought into the work that you’re doing every day, there’s no way you can expect the wider team to show commitment and drive.

No-one should feel they have something extra to prove because of a particular characteristic or background they might have. It is important to have voices from diverse genders, ethnicities, sexualities and neurotypicalities and I personally want to champion all people and viewpoints. As team leaders we need to make sure that diverse voices are encouraged – to apply for roles, join teams, know they are supported and to contribute to change. Team leads should lean into their roles as supportive mediators – making sure everyone is equipped with the resources they need, giving as much context and information as they can, and explaining the why.

According to Gartner, financial services organisations risk being left behind if they do not have access to the right digital skills. With 10% of all current UK job vacancies being for the technology industry, according to Tech Nation, tech workers have never been more important to the health of the economy, nor represented a bigger opportunity for those considering their career options.

We need not to just attract diverse talent, but nurture and grow that talent so that it stays in, and improves, the tech and finance industries.

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