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Diversity in tech: can flexible work practices make the industry more accessible?

Bright Purple looks at the benefits of flexible work practices and how they open up the industry for underrepresented talent.
The tech industry has a long-standing diversity problem. Almost daily there are worrying statistics about the lack of representation for marginalised groups in the industry. 
Diversity UK recently reported that while black and Latino people make up 18% of computer science graduates only 5% work in the tech industry. The question is why are 13% of these graduates not working in the industry?
It can’t be a lack of jobs. In the second quarter of 2021 alone, Bright Purple saw recruitment hit a five year high with 100,000 jobs being advertised every week in June. 
If it’s not a lack of talent or vacancies, then tech, like many other industries, faces a big challenge to address institutionalised bias and other oppressive power structures.
Many companies have digitised their workspaces throughout 2020 and remote working has become the norm. This move towards flexible work practices has arguably made the tech industry more accessible than ever, but has this changed things for underrepresented groups? 
From bringing teams together across the globe to the rise of asynchronous communication, the last eighteen months have made fulfilling and flexible work environments possible. But as pressure to return to the office mounts, many companies are revisiting the necessity of these practices.
While there are many arguments in favour of returning to the office, Bright Purple is ready to take a deep dive into how flexible work practices are of benefit to our clients, talent and the tech industry as a whole.
Cheryl Torano, flexible working quote

The benefits of flexible work practices

Flexible work practices are about more than remote working. In fact, remote working is just the tip of the iceberg. Asynchronous communication and hybrid working are also a large part of the future of work. 
In 2019, Doist released an extensive report looking at their flexible work practices and how remote work has made their team more productive. 
The company cites benefits from giving employees more control over their own schedules to building deeper, better lines of communication between team members. 
They also argue moving away from synchronous communication has allowed for employees to focus on the ‘deep work’ of ongoing projects instead of dividing their time and attention with ‘shallow work’ such as monitoring their inboxes or replying to messages. 
Doist places more value on these contributions than the hours their employees put into maintaining an online presence. This move towards ‘deep work’ arguably allows employees to feel like they are making bigger, more satisfying contributions to their workplace and in turn encourages employers to invest in team members. 
While it sounds like they reject traditional methods of communication, Doist have in fact developed a balance with synchronous communication being used for emergencies or to reconnect with team members in one-to-ones and at annual gatherings. 
When the pressure to stay connected is lifted, it can give everyone the time and chance to express themselves clearly with better laid out plans and ideas than if we expect an immediate response in the middle of a working day.
This move away from traditional communication has gained Doist a 90% employee retention rate, with employees staying with the company for more than 5 years compared to organisations like Google who often retain employees for only 1.1 years.
Higher retention rates usually indicate a better rate of employee satisfaction. By continuation, fulfilled and satisfied employees are more likely to be productive and commit to investing in a company’s future. What does this mean for underrepresented talent in the industry?
Working from home quote

How do flexible workspaces make the tech industry more accessible?

The tech industry’s talent shortage is tightly linked to its diversity crisis. There is a plethora of untapped talent that isn’t represented, reintegrated or invested in in the tech industry. 
Flexible workspaces can offer some relief for these groups by removing barriers caused by rigid schedules, dress-codes and location requirements. A move towards hybrid models like those laid out by Doist makes the industry more accessible to those with care commitments, chronic illnesses or learning disabilities to name a few.
Bright Purple spoke with a tech professional (who wished to remain anonymous) about how remote working has improved his experience as a disabled man in tech. 
He credits remote working with not only giving him more time to spend with his newborn child, but it has also reduced the time he needs to spend planning his day which previously included scheduling bathroom breaks. 
The freedom to be able to use the bathroom when necessary or dress in comfortable clothes can make a huge difference to employee well-being and in turn the work environment. Giving employees the ability to work around their requirements and commitments arguably allows them to create a fulfilling work-life balance and contribute to higher rates of satisfaction and productivity.
Disabilities in tech
Cheryl Torano, Business Development Manager for Abertay University’s cyberQuarters, talked to Bright Purple about how gaining an additional 10 hours a week back from commuting has allowed her to better balance her work commitments and domestic arrangements, stating that a return to the office would mean scrambling to find childcare and ultimately sacrificing the work-life balance she has come to enjoy.
Not only does flexible work make space for an employee’s external commitments and requirements, it also offers some protection from institutionalised bias and workplace harassment. However, as laid out by Diversity UK more needs to be done to address these issues within the tech industry in the first place.
Many companies have pivoted towards blind screening candidates, which no doubt contributes to creating a more diverse landscape. The industry has also seen more and more employees coming forward about mistreatment. They are less intimidated by the impact coming forward about sexual harassment, racism, transphobia or ableism will have on their careers. 
So while flexible work practices can go a long way towards improving accessibility, we need to do more to address these biases and harassment marginalised employees face.

What do tech companies stand to gain from flexible workspaces?

Maintaining flexible work practices and accessibility opens up new pools of talent. Whether it’s reinvesting in those returning from extended absences such as maternity, paternity or sick leave, or offering development and training for those with skills gaps, there is talent out there with creative solutions to help any business advance. 
FLexible working
Tapping into these groups also gives companies and the industry access to creative solutions and problem solving that is unavailable to those without a varied or intersectional perspective. 
The British Interactive Media Association’s (BIMA) 2019 Tech Inclusion and Diversity report states companies with higher rates of ethnic and racial diversity see up to 35% more earnings than those without and those with better gender diversity outperform their competitors by around 15%. 
This is a compelling case for not only elevating and championing diverse voices, but also for making your business more accessible to put your company at the forefront of innovation and leadership.

How can your business support underrepresented groups?

Diversity UK has outlined several key factors to improve diversity within the tech industry, including tackling unconscious bias, supporting education and professional development, ensuring equal pay and aiming for inclusivity. 
But keeping offices online and maintaining flexible work practices is an integral part of this, as it removes barriers, creates mutual investment from employers and employees, as well as giving people the freedom they need to flourish. 

In the wake of the pandemic and social justice movements of 2020, it is more important than ever to work towards improving conditions for those who are underrepresented in our industry. 
As Torano points out, ‘the majority of [people] in the tech sector can comfortably work anyplace, as long as [they] have a device and an internet connection. There is no need for [them] to be in an office every day. This also allows [people] to work anywhere in the world, removing geographical restrictions when trying to find employment.’
Disabled man in tech quote, lockdown

The Bright Purple Perspective

It's important for us to be transparent in saying that although this article highlights the many compelling cases for flexible work practices, that we are by no means a perfect example, nor do we condemn any business that chooses to go back to to the office full time - we simply wanted to dive into the topic and that facts that came with it.  
While Bright Purple have taken several meaningful steps in what we feel is the right direction, there is still more we can do and are looking to do to play our part in making tech more accessible to under-represented groups.
As an employer, we have adopted a hybrid approach of an 80/20 or 60/40 home to office split, that has enabled our teams to work from home and fit their work around childcare, appointments and general commitments. A commitment to remote working has also seen us make several new hires across the country - talent that was inaccessible to us when office working was mandatory. 
22% of our advertised roles were also for remote-working, so it is clear that despite the slow return to the office, that many of our clients are embracing ongoing flexible work practices too.
The full benefits of flexible work are still to be determined, but the removal of exclusionary barriers offers an even playing field for underrepresented groups, and in turn will allow the tech industry to tap in some much needed talent. 
BIMA and Diversity UK have a range of resources available to help your company build strategies to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Disclaimer: Quotes have been edited for clarity


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