Black women make up only 0.7% of the UK’s technology workforce: Report

A new joint report from Coding Black Females (CBF), and BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, lays bare the reality of working in the UK tech industry for Black women.

african american woman on laptop mac diversity gender equality programmer devops by christina moril
Christina Morillo (CC0)

More than 20,000 black women are ‘missing’ from the UK IT industry, according to a new report from Coding Black Females (CBF) and BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

The three-part study analysed Labour Force Survey data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS); conducted in depth interviews to create a picture of the prevailing inclusivity challenges; and sought views from over 350 black women working in the UK technology sector.

After analysing the data, the report found that despite Black women making up 1.8% of the UK workforce, they make up only 0.7% of technology workers in the UK. Twenty thousand Black women would need to be recruited in addition to the 12,000 already working in IT to fill the gap.

More generally, although the percentage of all women in IT has increased slightly over recent years, from 17% of the IT workforce in 2017 to 22% in 2021, according to the report, they remain under-represented in senior leadership roles. In 2021, just 17% of IT directors were female, according to the report.

Women are under-represented in IT management

Women also remain poorly represented amongst IT directors (just 17% of which in 2021 were female) and programmers/software developers (16%).

If gender representation as whole in IT were equal to the workforce 'norm' there would have been an additional 486,000 female IT specialists in the UK, the study said.

In comments posted alongside the report, Charlene Hunter MBE, a BCS Board member and CEO of CBF, said that while there are some really inclusive IT organisations, CBF’s research in conjunction with BCS has found that successful Black women (and women in general) working in tech are often where they are despite the prevailing culture, limited flexibility in their working options, and lack of inclusive working culture.

“The fact is that a diverse tech profession produces much better products and outcomes, for example in teams working on AI," she said. “We need senior leaders to match the large numbers of black women currently appearing in tech and engineering adverts, with genuine opportunities to progress into rewarding jobs.”

Adding 'narrative flesh' to the statistics

Alongside the statistical analysis of representation in the UK tech sector, the report also includes real-life testimonials from Black women in the industry to add, in the words of the report authors, “narrative flesh” to the skeleton of the survey numbers.

Jessica Cregg, a developer advocate at software feature management firm LaunchDarkly and a member and teaching assistant at CBF, said that when the organisation first announced it was putting together the report, she spoke to other members about how important it was going to be to have an accurate reflection of Black women’s experiences within the industry.

She was particularly pleased to see the report focus on the intersectionality of race as, in the UK, conversations around diversity often stop at gender, something Cregg acknowledges is important in and of itself, but can often lead to conversations around diversity being quite one dimensional.

However, speaking about the findings, Cregg she was unsurprised by the numbers as they “completely match and track with my experience”.

Research consistently shows that companies that have a more diverse workforce have a better bottom line, meaning that companies which chose to ignore the importance of D&I initiatives are actively sabotaging their profit margin. However, while Cregg said that some work being undertaken by organisations is “encouraging”, there’s still a long way to go. She highlighted the fact that the last time Google posted its diversity statistics, it showed the company was losing Black talent, while a class action lawsuit accused the company of steering its Black employees to lower-level jobs, paying them less and denying them opportunities to advance because of their race.

Cregg adds that when companies stop being held accountable, D&I initiatives can lose steam and support, with minority employees they were set up to support often being left to bang the drum on their own.

Despite the report’s findings, Cregg said she is optimistic that representation of Black women in the IT industry will improve. She explained that she belongs to a meetup group focused on DevOps and DedSec ops which is pushing to be more inclusive. As the group has grown, Cregg said she’s been really encouraged by how its members have been willing to engage in what some might deem to be uncomfortable conversations.

“There are a lot of people out there who are really keen to listen, it's just that sometimes they don't necessarily have the vocabulary to talk about these issues because they feel so heavy,” Cregg explains. “Pointing out ‘there are not enough Black people in this room’ can sometimes be really difficult to say but, once you are able to have that conversation, it usually leads to a really positive outcome.”

Furthermore, the growth of CBF, which is now in its sixth year, alongside the more recent launch of Black Girls In Tech, illustrates that there is an evolving appetite to try and improve the figures outlined in the joint report.

“There’s so much energy and enthusiasm in carrying this forward, the shared desire to change and learn genuinely makes me feel really optimistic,” Cregg said.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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