In recent years the topics of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) have moved higher and higher up the corporate agenda, but what businesses say and what they do have historically not always been aligned in this space.
What is the state of Diversity and Inclusion in 2022 within Microsoft Partners and the tech industry in general?
We conducted 1-2-1 interviews with senior leaders from 50 of the UK’s top SME Microsoft Partners to discuss the topic in more detail. Where possible, direct quotes have taken from these interviews.
The Equality Act protects people against discrimination on the grounds of 9 protected characteristics.
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Though the law is clear in the case of discrimination, Diversity & Inclusion is a much broader topic. Employers want their staff to feel welcomed and part of the team – so they need to go far beyond protecting them from discrimination to do that.
- 5 ways businesses benefit from diversity and inclusion
- Is diversity success in the eye of the beholder?
- So how are Microsoft Partners doing?
5 ways businesses benefit from diversity and inclusion
Improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace doesn’t just benefit employees, often the multitude of benefits they bring to a business itself are overlooked.
This by itself would be worthy of a separate blog, however some of the key points include:
Greater creativity and innovationCompanies with more diverse leadership teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation (Boston Consulting Group)
Improves group performance and thinkingWith regards to decision making processes, teams with greater gender diversity outperform individuals 73% of the time, compared to 58% for all-male teams (University of North Carolina Pembroke).
Increased employee retention and engagementResearch from workplace culture experts, Great Place To Work, shows that when' employees trust that they, and their colleagues, will be treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or age, they are:
- 9.8 times more likely to look forward to going to work
- 6.3 times more likely to have pride in their work
- 5.4 times more likely to want to stay a long time at their company'.
Gives your business a better understanding of your customersThe annual disposable income of disabled people in the UK totals £249 billion (wearepurple.org.uk), this number tops £1 trillion globally across 1.3 billion people. Companies who have disabled employees are theoretically better placed to have an understanding of what products and services disabled people want.
Improves profitabilityManagement consultants McKinsey & Co published a six-year study in 2020 that showed “diverse companies are 36% more profitable than less diverse companies”.
So we know that diversity in the workforce can generate huge benefits, and that making the workplace inclusive to all types of people leads to happy staff who feel safe, respected and listened to. This ultimately leads to them being engaged and more productive. So why are many companies not doing more?
For smaller companies part of the issue can be in not knowing how or where to start. The most important thing is to understand the fundamental difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. As Verna Myers, author and VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, says:
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” -- -- Verna Myers
Is diversity success in the eye of the beholder?
Throughout conversations with the senior leaders, it became apparent that there was a distinct split into two groups.
Those that felt they had a relatively diverse workforce.
- “We are 34% female, with 20 nationalities across 120 staff.”
- “We did a survey recently – 41% are female. 26% BAME – which is way above the demographic for our region. We have a young workforce.”
- “3 out of 7 of our leadership team are female. We are now 50/50 gender equal across the business.”
- “Our service desk is very racially diverse.”
And those that felt they didn’t.
- “We aren’t very diverse – only 2 of 22 are women.”
- “Our gender profile is 25% female, 69% male, and 6% non-specified.”
- “Gender split is 85% male / 15% female.”
- “We do struggle as we do have a lot of white middle-aged males. The finance and marketing departments are all women, which is fairly typical. No women in any of the tech roles though.”
So how are Microsoft Partners doing?
The range of characteristics protected by the Equality Act is broad and conversations with the Microsoft Partners interviewed did not include them all. These are the topics that came up repeatedly among the cohort.
- Age, Faith & Neurodiversity
For all genders - Diversity needs to start at school
It’s no secret though that the tech industry has a problem with gender diversity and that women are still the minority by a wide margin. A 2018 Tech Nation article showed that only 19% of the UK tech industry workforce is female, and this was something that was apparent to almost every single Microsoft Partner CEO we spoke to:
- “Diversity & Inclusion is definitely an important part of who we are. Certainly, for tech roles it is hard to fill them with women.”
- “We are 80% technical, and so don’t see a lot of women! I did hire 3 women who are in tech roles. They were the only 3 I’ve seen in a long time.”
- “We are proactively trying to recruit more women.”
- “We talk about it – I have an ambition to be as equal opportunity as possible. Finding female developers is hard. We have two.”
Why aren’t more women applying for tech roles or choosing careers in tech?
For many the answer lies simply in the fact that far less women choose computer/technology and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related courses at all educational levels.
For example in 2020, “the number of girls choosing to study computer science GCSE was 16,919 – just over 21.4% of total entrants – compared with 61,540 boys” (The Guardian). In addition, research by the University of Roehampton and the Royal Society found that only 10% of A-Level Computer Science candidates were girls.
This gender imbalance continues in to higher education, with the percentage of female graduates in key technology related university courses continually low in recent years (STEM Women):
UK Female University Graduates
Engineering and technology
2015/16 – 4,480 – 15%
2016/17 – 4,700 – 15%
2017/18 – 5,050 – 15%
2018/19 – 5,375 – 16%
2015/16 – 2,925 – 16%
2016/17 – 3,020 – 15%
2017/18 – 3,220 – 15%
2018/19 – 3,490 – 16%
All of this has in turn has lead to a much smaller pool of women (relative to men) starting a career in tech for employers to hire from. The shortage of female candidates is one of the biggest challenges for employers who are keen to promote gender diversity.
Increasing gender diversity with strategic recruitment
Facing this perpetual hurdle in attracting more women in to the sector, the Microsoft Partners in our group had been forced to come up with new solutions to address the problem.
- “We don’t mandate a degree in computer science. We want people who love tech. We have quite a mix of people.”
- “We are always trying to get more female technical staff. The recruitment engine has looked into specialist mechanisms. We are short of developers and half the population are female so how could we entice women into this? Maybe we should be less fanatical about people having computer science degrees in their background.”
- “We are being more open when advertising roles, i.e., not mandating degrees.”
Whether companies are purposeful in thinking about and improving D&I in the workplace or not, it is clear that for today’s existing employees and job candidates it’s a factor that is at the front of their mind when thinking about their career. In a Glassdoor survey of job seekers, “76% report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.”
Trialling more inclusive practices
Microsoft Partners are actively working to remove bias from their recruitment processes by adopting more inclusive practices. Many are using skills-based assessments in place of face-to-face interviews to remove bias related to gender, age and race. In fact 57% of employers say they have updated their recruitment strategies to build a more diverse workforce (Shortlister).
- “We try to write job descriptions that appeal more to women.”
- “We had a people manager who was very keen on Diversity and Inclusion. We screen C.V.’s with no ID’s on them.”
- “We make job roles to be more inclusive.”
- “We specifically say we want to have people approach us and not rule themselves out because they find something in a job description that puts them off.”
- “Our recruiter is great – she creates a culture which promotes diversity.”
A few of the leaders commented that they often hire friends and close colleagues within their network which they felt did not help improve diversity within their workforce.
- “We do hire a lot of people we know, i.e., friends of friends so that isn’t helping drive diversity”
- “One issue is that when we use our ‘little black book’ of contacts when hiring, they tend to be middle age white guys, like us.”
Several of the members of the cohort had actively sought to hire people from disadvantaged backgrounds in an effort to increase diversity.
- “We work with a recruitment agent for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, then train them up.”
- “We do apprenticeships to get people in from less privileged backgrounds.”
- “We have been using the government Kickstart programme. Candidates have to have been on benefits. Young people (under 25) who’ve been on universal credit for 6 months.”
- “We are working with a charity to recruit people from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
- “We took advantage of the government Kickstart scheme, which has been good.”
Using employee benefits to reach new candidates
When trying to address the gender imbalance, a Women in Tech survey showed that incorporating “specific benefits aimed at women are vital in making women to want to apply for a role… just under 50% of women said benefits such as flexibility, working from home, opportunities to grow, training and salary were most important to them when deciding whether to apply for a job.” Several of the companies we spoke to had sought to increase parental leave...
- “Increased parental leave is a key part of that conversation. With gender inequality, the main the issue is around parental leave.”
Although there was significant attention around the lack of women in tech, it was a little surprising to find there wasn’t a more feedback regarding LGBTQ+ employees. Although the tech sector has in general continued to make strides in supporting the LGBTQ+ community, there is still plenty of work to do.
- “Gender pronouns, some of our people wanted everyone to have this on emails – we said they need to think more creatively about how to address people not feeling comfortable.”
The Institute of Engineering and Technology reported that 33% of LGBTQ+ people avoid careers in science, technology and engineering due to worries of discrimination and bullying. So what can Microsoft Partners do to help LGBTQ+ employees and attract more candidates to open roles.
Update your staff handbook and add inclusive policiesPolicies are the constitution of a company. They contain the core rules, values and rights of the team. It is a good idea to audit your policies to make sure they reflect your company’s stance on D&I. This is an opportunity to set out your desire to make the LGBTQ+ feel welcome and included.
TrainingTraining can be the most effective way to promote and educate on LGBTQ+ issues. From educating new starters to teaching managers that they should encourage their teams to speak up about any problems that might be affecting LGBTQ+ staff.
VolunteeringProviding staff with time off to volunteer with LGBTQ+ charities has multiple benefits -- from giving them a greater understanding of LGBTQ+ issues to helping these charities benefit from the skill set your staff can offer them.
Fly the Rainbow FlagPromoting LGBTQ+ initiatives through events, marketing and social media helps strengthen the message and your company's commitment to championing diversity, equality and inclusion.
Introduce new policiesAn Equality, Diversity & Inclusion policy is not only fundamental for fighting prejudice towards LGBTQ+ in the workplace but fighting sexism and racism too. If you haven’t got this policy already, it’s a great place to start.
You can read more on how you can support the LGBTQ+ community in or a blog here:
5 ways companies can support the LGBTQ+ community (law365.co)
There was also limited feedback on the topic of ethnic diversity during the interviews. Several leaders pointed out that they felt their business was already fairly diverse in this area, but that it had happened naturally rather than through a proactive change in policies and procedures.
- “We are very diverse in ethnicity. That tends to happen in I.T.”
- “We did a survey recently…. 26% [of staff are]BAME – which is way above the demographic for our region.”
And while the percentage of UK digital tech workers from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds slightly exceeds the national average (15% for UK tech versus 13% for UK workforce in general) there is still more that needs to be done to redress the imbalance.
Some of the biggest tech companies in the world have made great strides in addressing the issue, with many of them taking much more purposeful approaches such as setting up internal diversity task forces and setting hard targets to increase diversity within their businesses.
The website Tech Monitor analysed company filings for 30 of the biggest tech companies to understand how ethnically diverse the global sector currently is. As you can see from the table below, Qualcomm leads the way with 68% of all employees from minority ethnic backgrounds, with Microsoft at 48%.
% of employees from minority groups
Source: GlobalData & Tech Monitor
Age, Faith & Neurodiversity
It was clear that for many of the CEO’s we spoke to, addressing other areas such diversity in age, ensuring inclusive policies and practices for people of different faiths, and enabling neurodiversity were important to them.
- “We are very mature when it comes to mental health and neurodiversity. We work very hard to be inclusive.”
- “We have a lot of different faiths in the company. We did a multi-faith knowledge share. We recognised we would celebrate Christian holidays, so we now celebrate others too.”
- “We think about age, neurodiversity, all of these things are very important for us to understand.”
- “We don’t think about neurodiversity, perhaps we should.”
According to The Brain Charity “at least 20% of the adult population in the UK may be diagnosed with neurological conditions including autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”
Creating an inclusive workplace with a diverse workforce encourages greater creativity, innovation and fresh ideas.
Diversity is a high priority for some, but not all
It was also interesting to see a split amongst the group in terms of those who:
- Described D&I as a significant focus
- Those who said that were not doing anything proactively but it was very much on their agenda
- And finally, those that were not doing anything deliberate and weren’t looking to implement any changes at the moment.
Group 1 - Those who prioritised diversity saw positive change
For those who had D&I high on their agenda, it was impressive to hear some of the progress they’d made.
- “It is big, we have a D&I group. We have done a lot about creating a menopause policy, an IVF policy, bereavement policy. Stuff which was previously done case by case.”
- “We’ve done quite a lot around this, implemented a new system that will capture people’s self-characterisation around how they define themselves. We have done a lot around inclusion. We also did a big event for everyone to try to understand how people feel about their experience.”
- “We are doing a couple of events this year around women in tech and a broader Equality, Diversity and Inclusion theme.”
- “I am a visa sponsor, and you can get some of the most talented students on work experience while they are studying at university and almost all will be BAME, so that’s a great way of getting culturally diverse talent in.”
- “We were painfully aware that we were very white and middle-aged. We want to address it but in the right way. Positive discrimination is not the answer. We now have a more ecologically sustainable, more appealing brand in terms of less masculine. We tackled it at a brand level.”
Microsoft sets a good example
Microsoft themselves have continued to lead from the front in addressing D&I issues in the workplace. As their 2020 Diversity and Inclusion report noted:
- “…all racial and ethnic minority employees in the U.S. combined earn $1.006 for every $1.000 earned by their white counterparts, that women in the U.S. earn $1.001 for every $1.000 earned by their counterparts in the U.S. who are men, and women in the U.S. plus our ten other largest employee geographies (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, and United Kingdom) combined earn $1.000 for every $1.000 by men in these countries. Our intended result is a global performance and development approach that fosters our culture, and competitive compensation that ensures equitable pay by role while supporting pay for performance.
Promoting diversity in the Company Values
Within the group of Microsoft Partners that had sought to make D&I a priority, some had gone a step further and linked it to their own company values as a way to have it front of mind at all times.
- “One of our 4 values is Embrace Diversity.”
- “We talk about inclusivity a lot. One of our values is inclusivity. i.e., when organising social activities and asking ourselves is this inclusive? It comes from a belief in the whole leadership team.”
- “D&I is now a big thing for our new Head of People. How much do we need to do? 3 of 7 leadership team of female. We are now 50/50 gender equal across the business. We do a gender pay audit every year. Have done for last 3 years. One of our values is open and honest.”
Group 2 - Still lots of scope for improvement
Several Microsoft Partners were clearly at the start of their journey in implementing change.
- “We have a lot to do, but we are working on it.”
- “It’s something we look at as a leadership team. We look at what diversity we have. We don’t have active policies in place but are looking at it.”
- “No but we have started tracking diversity. We are measuring it which is new for us.”
- “We don’t do a lot deliberately. We encourage the reporting of any issues. We are working on coming up with a D&I policy.”
Some of the Microsoft Partners we interviewed had not done anything deliberate in this space but had developed diversity by virtue of being based in locations with diverse populations or were just content to let things happen organically.
- “We are quite a diverse company being London based helps with this without any effort.”
- “It’s not something we discuss at leadership level. We have offices around the world and my leadership team is pretty diverse, so D&I is pretty organic. Doesn’t feel useful to make it an agenda item.”
- “Nothing deliberately. However, we have a remarkably diverse population. 80% of our developers are female. Ethnically diverse. It is a happy accident!”
Group 3 – Diversity and Inclusion?
There was also a small group who did not feel compelled at this stage to make wholesale changes to their working practices.
- “We don’t really do anything deliberately on this. It hasn’t become compelling enough.”
- “We aren’t looking to be diverse just for the sake of it. It won’t add value.”
- “We don’t do anything deliberately. In the course of last few years, we have some diversity in sexuality, not in ethnicity. We aren’t doing anything positive, but we don’t do anything negative either.”
And they are not alone. A recent survey by Monster revealed that 30% of all UK companies don’t have any form of D&I strategy in place.
Just having a group of different types of people is part of the journey, how you make that group work is the key. Jameel Rush, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at The Philadelphia Inquirer and professor at Villanova University highlights why this is so important:
“Focus on first creating inclusion and THEN building diversity in the workplace. Many organizations’ knee-jerk reaction to diversity and inclusion efforts is to hire for diversity. The problem is that you can hire for diversity, but it can still be a poor experience for the employee if they’re entering a workplace that isn’t inclusive. It isn’t enough to set up occasional employee training and hire a few diverse employees as a way to check the box. So, before you hire, focus on creating an inclusive culture that’s genuine and ongoing.”
Diversity and Inclusion – Leading by example
For some of the Microsoft Partners we spoke to there was still a lack of diversity when it came to leadership roles.
- “A few people have commented that our leadership team is all white and all males. It has been easier lower down to recruit from a wider more diverse pool. We have a lot of women across the business, just not in leadership.”
- “The leadership team is all men.”
- “1 out of the 4 on the leadership team is a woman.”
- “We only have 1 woman out of 7 on the leadership team.”
- “Our leadership team is all men.”
Real change starts at the top, and diversity in leadership roles will be the catalyst for a cascading effect across the rest of a company. It is key that leaders strive to create a workplace culture where employees believe they are respected and feel that they are being listened to.
It is also important to have a high performing and diverse leadership team to attract and retain the best talent in the market, as the next generation of leaders want to see people like themselves in these positions and relate to them.
This is the fifth chapter of our 10 part blog series, Microsoft Partners Insights.
Read chapter 1 - Benchmarking Research, for an introduction into Law 365's Microsoft Partner Insights 2022, key themes involved in the research, chapter 2 - Financial review for insights into the Financial information of the UK's top SME Microsoft Partners, chapter 3 - recruitment, or chapter 4 - Employee retention and attrition.