Can mentoring help to improve diversity in tech?

by | Nov 15, 2021

Ed Johnson, CEO and Founder of mentoring and career development platform PushFar, discusses how mentoring can help to level the playing field for under represented groups

It seems fairly indisputable that it is critical for tech companies to be represented by a diverse workforce as individuals and businesses continue to become ever more reliant on technology. The technology industry is growing almost 3 times faster than the economy as a whole, and with it comes the need for an increased focus on diversity. More diverse teams will result in more inclusive innovation, better products and customer experiences that inspire brand loyalty.

Much has been written about the problems regarding diversity in the tech industry, but there are signs to suggest that the situation is improving and headway is being made. Latest figures from Diversity in Tech show that representation of ethnic minorities in the IT industry is estimated at 19%, shifting upwards from 16% in 2015, for example. The number of women working in technology has also continued to increase, although still lower than the percentage of women in the workforce overall.

However, whilst figures for under-represented groups appear to be moving in the right direction, if not as fast as many might wish, with tech companies looking to hire in a more diverse way, a problem seems to exist for the industry that they are struggling to retain these employees. Higher up the employment chain, and notably in boardrooms, there still appears to be a lack of diversity with a larger proportion of under-represented groups leaving the industry than in other sectors.

It is my belief that companies which wish to have a stronger emphasis on tangible diversity, equity and inclusion efforts need to be prepared to make more active and structural changes to ensure that people looking to join or progress their careers there have role models to look up to throughout the business. Standalone initiatives like hiring a head of D&I or implementing unconscious bias training are not going to cut the mustard when it comes to trying to truly change a workplace culture and make it properly inclusive.

One path that has proven time and time again to have the ability to help turn a diverse workforce into an inclusive one is putting in place a mentoring scheme. I’d argue that having a mentoring relationship is one of the most beneficial things a company can do for career development and retention, with evidence showing that employees feel motivated and supported when they see senior leaders with whom they can relate. As a result, on average it has been found that mentoring programmes boost the representation of underrepresented groups by 9% to 24%.

Work that we have done at PushFar has backed this up. Limit Break, a mentorship programme in the UK games industry, recognised the value mentoring can bring to their industry in relation to addressing diversity and inclusion issues. Their founder, Anisa Sanusi, established Limit Break when she couldn’t find a female mentor in the gaming industry and was looking for guidance and a role model. We partnered with them to put in place a programme that now means unrepresented genders, LGBQT+ and people of colour can find mentoring relationships based on specific backgrounds and profiles. By connecting a young workforce to those with experience, there can obviously be huge benefits both for the individual and the company in the skills and knowledge that they can pass on.

With a mentoring platform, there is not only the ability to self-match with relevant mentors, but companies are also able to measure the validity of the relationships, and track the way that the project is progressing. We worked with UiPath, the world’s leading RPI software company, to create a mentor programme for the largest RPA developer community in the world, of over 1 million people. UiPath has been able to track engagement rates and measure the benefits that it has offered in terms of bringing people into the world of RPA and improving technical expertise.

On top of this, we also need to continue to encourage those from under-represented backgrounds to want to step into technology roles, and support them in doing so, and mentorship has been found to help achieve this too. In my view, the recruitment process can, even if inadvertently, be one of the principal hurdles to creating a diverse workforce. Applicants from ‘different backgrounds’ to the organisation they are applying for are often handicapped. This is not just because the interviewers may have some unconscious bias, it is because the recruitment process itself favours the ‘majority’ at the organisation. Applicants that have easy access to the community or group represented at the company they are applying for can get a huge advantage by getting insights into the process, company, politics and even gain relevant experience. This then leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that veers an organisation towards one particular group. We have worked with organisations to set up mentoring programmes providing access for all candidates to relevant current employees that could support them during recruitment.

When it comes to the issue of diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, there is obviously no one silver bullet, and companies in the sector need to be prepared to take a proactive and progressive approach looking at all the options available to them. Mentoring can be a key part of that puzzle though, helping an industry that is starting to look more diverse to become truly inclusive.

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