Technology impacts our lives every day and increasingly our lives are shaped and influenced by data. It is no longer unusual and indeed we are now accustomed to our shopping habits being analysed by major retailers who use sophisticated data analytics to mould and promote tantalising offers to keep us loyal to one particular retail operator.
We have apps on our mobiles that can record our preferences for films, music, tv content and recommend accordingly. The smart use of technology will only continue to grow and continue to disrupt traditional models of work, retail and our social activity.
However, despite monumental leaps in technology and constant challenging of the status quo including Uber, Air BNB, and Tesla which is leading to the democratisation and people driven focus of previously protected industries I believe we have yet to see technology and data being used effectively to drive diversity in the workforce.
In Scotland and the UK the statistics on diversity in the workforce continue to make depressing headlines.
The employment rate in Scotland for people with a disability is 41% compared to an overall employment rate of 72.6%.
There is an average pay gap in Scotland between men and women of 17.5% – rising in some sectors to over 40%.
Research by the Equality Network in Scotland suggests that over a quarter of LGBT individuals in the workplace have experienced discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
Of Scottish-based companies in the FTSE 100 – women only account for 25% of board members.
We would all agree that these are serious issues that businesses need to address not just morally but unquestionably because diverse businesses perform better than those who are not.
Research by Forbes undertaken in 321 large global enterprises with over $500m in annual revenue found that 85% of these enterprises recognised that diversity was crucial to fostering innovation in their workforce.
Research by McKinsey has found that companies who are in the top 25% for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. In addition their research found that companies with greater gender diversity on their senior executive team led to better financial returns than competitors.
Diverse companies are better at attracting and retaining talent, and they have a more engaged, empowered and positive workforce and workplace. They are also able to promote a brand or reputation that is valued by shareholders, stakeholders, customers and employees.
Diverse businesses become an employer of choice.
Faced with the challenges and knowing the benefits how can we work better to enable technology to support diversity?
Our ability to utilise technology and data must be harnessed if we want to see a shift in some of the statistics above and to create an environment where anyone can achieve their potential and ambitions at work regardless of ethnicity, gender or any disability. But what are some of the very real and tangible challenges and how could technology and data provide solutions?
For many women the pay gap starts to take effect when they choose to start a family and take leave from their work. With remote-working technology now in the mainstream and affordable for many businesses the adoption of this technology could mean that women could begin to get back into work sooner and become engaged in specific roles and projects whilst still on leave if that was something they wanted to do.
One of the dangers in all of this is that we look for solutions to solve the problems that women face and that is a mistake. We need to look at technology to support both men and women in the workplace. When we talk about leave we need to continue to shift the language to shared parental leave and provide men with the same technology support as women.
It is the same when we look at the data available to companies to better understand their diversity challenges. Too often companies consider Diversity an HR issue and not a mainstream business performance issue.
To understand where companies are losing staff or not seeing enough women for example in leadership roles, businesses need to use the data available to consider male / female employment application splits, what is the language being used to outline job applications or promotion opportunities, do women apply for promotion at the same rate as men, are women leaving the workforce at a greater rate than men, what is the percentage of women in senior leadership roles for example? All of these questions can be similarly applied to other protected characteristics.
By analysing these questions and understanding their current performance companies can then set targets to seek to improve their diversity position.
We know that if it gets measured it gets reported and businesses will be much clearer on where there challenges lie and how to begin to make a positive impact to redress any imbalances that they identify.
We still have a long way to go before we truly see equality in our companies and where we recognise and reward individuals based on their talent and potential. However I am truly optimistic that we are heading in the right direction.
Never before has this been such a key issue in government, in companies and in board rooms across Scotland and the UK.
For the companies who seize the diversity challenge as an opportunity, who embrace the use of modern technology to enable their staff, who understand the data available to them and put in place a framework and road map to achieve diversity the prize is great. Not only will they see their business performance improve but they will also demonstrate a commitment to their staff internally and externally they will show that they offer a truly inclusive workforce where everyone matters, everyone can achieve their potential and everyone is valued.
That is a prize worth aiming for.