DE&I Washing in the Tech Industry

DE&I practitioner, Aicha Zerrouky explores….
Diversity, ethnicity, and inclusion (DE&I) has become a key focal point of the last two years. Global events brought the issue to the fore.

The public ensured that it gained the attention it deserved. But while businesses, including those from the tech industry, were quick to voice their support for the movement, there has been little evidence to suggest that any real change has taken place.

DE&I washing is becoming a grim reality of unsupported virtue signalling and the tech industry risks being as guilty of it as everyone else.

The problem of DE&I washing

DE&I has a wealth of theoretical support and following the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, businesses were falling over themselves to be the first to claim solidarity and respect. Statements were released to the press.

Soul-searching blogs and editorials proliferated. But if you look beneath the shiny clean surface of almost any of the brands that pledged to do better, you will find that very little has changed. There may be a wider variety of skin tones on display in the team pictures. Maybe a few more women but diversity isn’t the same as inclusion. And inclusion isn’t the same as equity. So, where are things going wrong?

Top-down stagnation

Try comparing the board and leadership team of a company ostensibly ‘committed to DE&I’. Look at the composition today and see how it measures up against the organisation of three years ago. Has anything changed? Are there more women with the top jobs? Are there more people from non-white backgrounds?  Do they have a voice? According to the Spencer Stuart Board Index, 15 % of board members self-identify as having a minority ethnic background in 2022. While Tech Nation reports that only 22% of tech directors are women.

Diversity is an easy step for businesses to initiate. It doesn’t take much to recruit more women, or men from diverse backgrounds. But unless those new recruits are treated fairly, remunerated equally, valued, and provided with the same opportunities available to their colleagues, you still have no claim to DE&I. And while the board remains a white canvas, that simply isn’t happening.

In 2022, 91.1% of companies in the tech industry paid their male employees more than their female staff. Across tech, men’s median hourly pay was 16% higher than that of women. That makes the gender pay gap 4.4% higher than the national average.

And while tech has a marginally higher proportion of BAME people than the labour market as a whole (15.2% vs 11.8% for all occupations), in 2020, black people in tech were ‘offered 3.9% less than baseline pay’.


Why is it so hard for the tech industry to get DE&I right?

There are two main reasons why DE&I has failed so far.

The recent focus on DE&I has been very public. While this isn’t a bad thing, it does mean that the decision-making process has been reactive. Businesses have raced to differentiate themselves. Consequently, we’ve seen promises without plans and ideals without infrastructure. Decrees have been made to enhance DE&I, but no one is following through. Because no one is being held accountable.

But there is also a more systemic problem to address.

In 2021, Sifted reported that over a third of minority ethnic entrepreneurs in the UK are likely to give up on their business because of lack of funding. That year, black owned businesses only received 0.24% of UK funding. While UK Female-led fintech only made 4% of investments. Until all genders and ethnicities are viewed through the same lens, DE&I is going to flounder.

DE&I washing in tech probably isn’t intentional. In fact, for most CEOs, it’s not even a consideration – until someone questions them. And that’s the problem. Because unless we agree to work at change, change simply will not happen.