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#BreakingTheBias and opening the tech industry

#BreakingTheBias and opening the tech industry

For businesses across the industry spectrum, diversity is key to staying competitive and relevant. Here are thoughts from BBD’s people on #BreakingTheBias

For businesses across the industry spectrum, diversity is key to staying competitive and relevant. In fact, studies have shown that more diverse organisations outperform their peers, creating a breeding ground for innovation, teamwork and creativity. However, while strides are being made across the board in #BreakingTheBias, the technology industry has largely remained a homogeneous landscape, yet to fully tap into the multitude of benefits that come part and parcel with a diverse and inclusive workforce.

As part of a campaign celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day, BBDers from different levels and positions around the globe, shared their input on why diversity and inclusion matter to them and what can be done to aid in breaking the bias and making the IT industry more accessible to people from all backgrounds, cultures, orientations and other differences.

Why diversity and inclusion matter

Great organisations tap the collective genius of great humans, explains BBD EU business development director, Liesl Bebb-McKay, however, to be able to really get this right, we need to understand how to create organisational cultures that embrace inclusion fully and authentically. Companies and players in tech can stand to reap a multitude of benefits by opening their workforce up, including greater innovation and enhanced team performance through the introduction of new perspectives and ideas, all of which ultimately improve business output. “Diversity is particularly important in software” explains Lucky Nkosi, a member of BBD’s Research & Development team, “this is because everything we build at the end of the day has to be used by people”. Adding to this, Gina Mostert, a BBD consultant, explains: “The quality of everything we do, and subsequently the results we get, depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. The quality of our thinking is significantly improved where there is greater diversity of the group”. Ultimately, where different points of view, ideas, experiences and perspectives are welcomed, the chances of accurate, cutting-edge thinking improves. “Everybody sees problems from different perspectives,” explains Shraddha Mevawala, a junior software engineer at BBD; “which allows them to come up with a unique solution enriching the idea pool of the organisation”.

Diversity helps build a company culture where people live their authentic selves. By creating spaces for people to feel they can safely voice their opinions or questions, and then be guided in a way that is beneficial to their own growth, we can create a space that empowers regardless of differences, suggests BBD software engineer, Sam Hillebrand. Outside of collective organisational advantages and outcomes, a safe, diverse and inclusive environment can directly impact individual happiness and job satisfaction by allowing employees to feel a sense of belonging, not only retaining, but attracting new talent. On an individual level, when “given autonomy and creative freedom to work, people are able to further develop their skills” suggests Mevawala, and more broadly; “equality, inclusion and diversity means the ability for everyone to feel able to participate and achieve their full potential in any environment they choose” says BBD director of EU operations, Sylvie Cotton.

A grassroots approach

“The lack of woman specifically in the IT space is very topical” says Tarin Searle, BBD Group executive adding: “I do believe that we are not going to solve this problem imminently, but we need to start somewhere. It needs to be addressed at a grassroots level. Gender bias creates learning inequality in the classroom and sets limits on future potential. Persistent stereotypes around the relative ability of girls and boys in school have a direct impact on the type of subjects that students pursue.” Put simply, if there is no talent pool from which to source diverse candidates, there is no clear path toward diversity.

So, what can be done?

  • Providing positive role models: For many young girls, the prospect of working in the field seems non-existent. “As in any professional field,” explains Mostert, “our next generation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) need positive and visible female role models. They need individuals in their communities they can look up to or seek out”. Whether through outreaches, school talks, or simply taking the time to share their story, female leaders can inspire young girls to follow similar paths, while allowing other women to feel seen and represented. Further to this, Patricia Fakudze, a BBD executive adds: “we should be celebrating and sharing achievements from women in the industry so that the younger ones know there are people to look up to who are making a difference”
  • Exposure from a young age: Studies indicate that girls whose parents encourage them in STEM fields are more than 75% percent more likely to enter careers in that direction, hence, meeting them at pivotal junctures in their development by providing access to technology-based toys and games from as young as possible, at school and university, and encouraging them to choose STEM-related subjects is a key way to start at the very source of the problem – widening the skills pool from which companies are able to hire
  • Showing possible and real career trajectories: While demonstrating that there is a place for girls and women in the industry is a start, further bolstering this by showcasing possible careers in technical roles can go a long way in changing and challenging existing perceptions. “We need to show everyone that they have a future and potential for growth in STEM-related industries and demonstrate that workplaces are inclusive and that you can reach the top if that is the path you choose” says Cotton. However, working in tech doesn’t mean being a programmer. “Letting go of that rigid stigma makes the field far more accessible and appealing to women” explains Mika Ngobeni, a BBD junior software engineer, adding that we can make following a career in the field more appealing to women by highlighting the vast job streams, including the likes of business analyst, project manager and product owner
  • Challenging perceptions: For the most part, the tech field can feel very much like a boy’s club, explains Fakudze: “very few women have made it into this club, and those who have, haven’t had it easy”, even though women outperform academically in most STEM subjects both at school and at university, making STEM-related careers a natural choice for women. In theory, tech is an industry that can often play to what makes sense for women – it is intellectual, creative, flexible, collaborative. “For young women, the focus needs to be on championing skills and changing the perception of the industry as a place that makes sense to a woman for a future career” Bebb-McKay adds
  • Setting policies in place: “We all have the responsibility to uplift those around us” says Nkosi, but while each person has a role to play in ensuring a welcoming industry for those around them, organisations can also do their bit to put in place set policies that promote fair and equitable hiring practices, diverse leadership and boards, and set attainable future objectives that promote parity to better the industry from within their own ranks
  • Targeted initiatives and mentorship: “Let women serve as mentors for other women,” suggests BBD HR consultant, Bongi Khuzwayo “teach them to educate those around them, at work and in their local spaces.” Serving as a mentor and supporting learning opportunities in the community also goes a long way to encourage involvement other initiatives, such as those that aimed at equipping young girls with coding and tech-related skills are also a highly valuable means to encourage involvement and cast a wider net, reaching those who might otherwise not have been given the exposure or opportunity

While there is still much to be done and a long way to go to reach a truly levelled playing field, BBD is proud to be doing its part in #BreakingTheBias. Interested in finding out how? Visit our #IWD2022 microsite now, or watch here for more insights from BBD’s people.

What’s next? We’re ready!