Encouraging diversity in the developer community

Back in 2015 on International Women’s Day, Former UN Director General Ban Ki Moon published a statement.

“The world will never realise 100% of its goals if 50% of its people cannot realise their full potential.

‘When we unleash the power of women, we can secure a future for all.”

Four years later, corporate diversity and inclusion have no doubt improved – but women still face significant challenges and inequalities at work.

Setting aside the social, moral and political reasons for championing an inclusive workplace, diversity is arguably the key to creativity and the attraction and retention of commercial talent.

For the developer community, diversity of perspective can also mean the difference between a product’s success and its stagnation.

Developers’ problem-solving nous and endless creativity can be leveraged into the most successful product growth. Yet when this talent comes from the same kind of people with the same kind of perspectives, time and time again, ideas that were once touted as ‘innovative’ quickly tire.

That’s because a one-dimensional workforce ultimately kills creativity, and McKinsey’s latest research proves it.

Spotlight on gender diversity in 2019

McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity report shows that gender diversity increases a business’ profit more than previously thought.

In 2015 analysis, companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to outperform their competitors. The latest data released in January 2019 shows that likelihood has grown to 21%.

Increasing the number of women in the workplace also boosts GDP in the OECD – an intergovernmental organisation comprising 36 member countries – by $6 trillion, according to PwC’s annual Women in Work report. Closing the gender pay gap could boost GDP by a further $2 trillion.

Cultural and ethnic diversity at work

But gender isn’t the only side of the story. Companies with culturally and ethnically diverse employees were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits, according to McKinsey. At the board of director level, that figure rose to 43%.

Socioeconomic background is often left out of the diversity equation, and yet it cuts through all demographics, irrespective of race, gender, age and sexuality. In fact, research by the Social Mobility Commission found that on average, those from poorer families earn 7% less than their peers, equivalent to around £2,242 a year.

So, while gender, ethnic, cultural and socio-economic diversity clearly makes more money – women, minorities and those from lower household incomes remain largely underrepresented.

Diversity and inclusion in the developer community

Women make up just 11% of the developer workforce, according to data from the Pearson Frank Java and PHP Salary Survey, yet they’re 50% of any product’s potential customer base.

In developer teams, not only does diversity encourage every member to challenge their thinking more often, it also cultivates a broader range of ideas that better understand customer’s needs and solves a broader range of their problems.

That means more efficient product development, in turn leading to higher revenues, profit and retention.

The authors of How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, a report published in Scientific American, sum it up: “Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus.

“But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.”

A North Carolina State University study found that increased creative and product output goes hand-in-hand with companies in which diversity is prevalent.

The research saw 3,000 publicly traded companies measure nine aspects of diversity, including factors like whether or not they promoted women and people of colour, and showed those that ticked off all nine announced an average of two extra products in every given year.

And while governments are responsible for shaping a policy environment that supports gender equality and diversity in the workplace, it’s ultimately up to organisations and employers to put this into practice.

So, instead of simply talking about it, what can actually be done to drive diversity in developer teams?

In the workplace: Change the hiring criteria

Getting a diverse pool of applicants is the first step, and it begins with removing assumptions and unconscious bias. According to a HackerRank report, hiring managers’ top priorities are the right skills and culture fit (80.5%), followed by future performance (50.6%) and retention (37.8%).

But if hiring managers’ focus is on ‘culture fit’, they’re more likely to interview with a predisposed culture in mind – a cut-and-paste image based on either themselves or their team’s current members. True inclusivity begins when managers eschew recruiting in their own image and open up to unfamiliar narratives.

Evolving hiring practices is simply the start point. Companies need to focus on mentoring, flex their working hours and invest in developing talent – to name a few factors. Some of the responsibility, however, does and should lie with government leaders.

On a larger scale: invest in government initiatives

“If we want to maintain our position as a world-leading digital economy, we need to work with industry, local authorities and the voluntary sector to develop solutions so no-one is left behind,” said Margaret James, Minister for Digital, after the UK government announced its £1 million Digital Skills Innovation Fund.

In a push to improve diversity in the digital economy, of which the developer community is a significant part, the fund will help equip people from underrepresented groups and disabled people with the skills they need to thrive in tech.

Local authorities will bid for up to £500,000 of funding for training initiatives aimed at women, disabled people and those from lower socioeconomic areas seeking careers as software developers, data analysts, programmers, cybersecurity specialists and more.

An additional £400,000 will go towards helping older and disabled people acquire life-changing digital skills.

With this kind of government investment, a hiring process shake-up and a steadily increasing awareness of intersectional bias in the workplace, we can inch ever closer to a working world in which diversity of power is unleashed and shared.

There’s still, of course, a long way to go.

Gordon Sockett, content manager, IP EXPO Manchester