Britain’s technology sector has a “worrying” lack of diversity among its senior leadership, according to a report that shows the sector lags far behind the FTSE 100 and the wider economy on measures including gender, race and class representation.
Just 8.5% of senior leaders in technology are from a minority background, according to the report from agency Inclusive Boards, while women make up only 12.6% of board members in the sector – compared to the 30% female representation now achieved by FTSE 100 businesses.
The agency gathered information about the senior leadership and board composition of 500 of Britain’s largest tech firms, collecting demographic data for 1,882 executives and a further 1,696 board members.
“The figures are particularly worrying when you consider how important the tech sector is,” said Inclusive Boards’ director Samuel Kasumu. “It contributed close to £200bn to the economy in the last year and its growth rate is 2.5 times faster than the whole economy.
“Every other sector is reliant on technology: you have edtech, fintech, govtech, and healthtech. Our future, every single aspect of our lives, is increasingly becoming reliant on technology.
“So it’s very, very dangerous and alarming to see that particular groups are not being able to fully participate in the sector, and in a sense are being left behind.”
Gender is where the sector performs worst. Almost two-thirds of boards, and more than 40% of senior leadership teams, have no female representation at all, while across the sector the average is just 12.6% of board members and 16.6% of senior executives.
A separate report on gender in FTSE-350 boardrooms, published on Tuesday and carried out as part of the government-commissioned Hampton-Alexander Review, found that five firms had no women directors and 25% had only one woman in the boardroom. Review chairman Sir Philip Hampton described those businesses as “clearly out of touch” and suggested a consumer boycott of businesses that failed to promote women to top jobs.
The socio-economic background of the tech sector is also very different from wider UK society. More than 33% of board members and 31% of senior executives attended private schools, compared to just 8% of the UK as a whole.
Technology businesses came closest to fair representation over their racial make-up. One in nine senior leaders in the industry comes from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, compared to one in twelve for the FTSE 100. But that still lags the UK as a whole, because one in seven of the population has a BAME background. It is also significantly worse than the demographics of London, where 300,000 tech jobs are based. More than 40% of the capital’s population is from a minority ethnic background.
Technology companies often argue that diversity is hard to achieve because of the lack of a “pipeline” of talent, Hampton noted – the claim that there aren’t the right people studying STEM subjects at school or university, or going into the tech sector after graduation. Kasumu, however, said that traditional response doesn’t apply to the roles his report examined.
“When you look at the typical board member … it is less likely that they would be somebody from a developer background. We all know the story of Mark Zuckerberg, but that’s not necessarily a traditional story. It is usually somebody with a different type of expertise, who has a value that doesn’t require them to be a coder.
“On a board you can have a finance director, an HR specialist, a legal and compliance specialist, and somebody who’s really well connected and involved in communications.
“At board level, variety is the key strength point. So there’s no real reason why the tech sector should be so disproportionately worse than other sectors at board and senior leadership level.”