The tech industry and diversity have long been antonyms. Yet tech is poised to become the top sector of employment by the end of the pandemic, and is currently growing three times faster than the rest of the economy (diversityintech.co.uk). What are the benefits of ending the W.E.I.R.D monopoly on tech careers?
That the WEIRD (western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic) monopoly on tech should be a problem might sound paradoxical to many tech-smart ears. But the growing adoption of tech across the globe, in developing countries as well as their developed counterparts, sparks questions about control, ownership and usage. Who gets to design the tech used by billions?
Simeon Quarrie, founder and CEO at VIVIDA, which creates immersive training experience for cybersecurity, explains: “At the moment, the tech industry doesn’t reflect the society it was built to serve. Most people are drawn to industries where they can see people like them excelling in them. You see someone like you doing well in an industry and are inspired to follow in their footsteps.”
There has been a push for greater diversity in the tech workforce; with greater representation comes a greater range of perspectives and information processing styles. It is understood that this would yield more innovative results, which would have the added benefit of being better suited to general application by the public. Examples of a lack of diversity leading to mixed results in the past include the first release of Apple’s HealthKit app in 2014, which was originally unable to acknowledge women’s menstrual cycles, or digital soap dispensers in the UK built on face-recognition technology which were unable to recognise dark skin.
Diversity in tech has long been a contentious subject; in the West, the discourse centres chiefly on gender imbalance, as reflected in the ongoing discussion about the lack of women in STEM subjects at university level. There are also qualms and concerns at career level; a recent survey from BIMA (British Interactive Media Association), which asked 3,000 people to explore their experience of diversity as members of the UK technology community, found that 35% of women feel their gender has negatively affected their career progression.
This is symptomatic of a wider discrimination problem: the same survey revealed that 14% of respondents believe their ethnicity has negatively affected their career progression, with nearly a third (32%) of people of Asian and South East Asian descent, and 40% of people from an Afro-Caribbean and mixed heritage background, saying they have experienced negative discrimination as a result of their ethnicity (itpro.co.uk).