With some 300 events and over 55,000 attendees from 90 countries, London Tech Week has grown to be one of the biggest and most influential events of its kind since it first started in 2014. Start-ups, scale-ups, first-time founders and serial entrepreneurs meet and mingle at this celebration and exploration of all things tech - and the agenda is as broad as the digital frontier itself.
This year, the programme of workshops, discussion panels, networking and talks included a number of high-profile events focused on diversity and inclusion in tech through the week, underlining how crucial it is to the ongoing and future success of the industry.
WeWork celebrated the official opening of its first international accelerated programming Flatiron school in London by hosting a panel discussion about diversity and accessibility in tech education, with contributions from CodeBar, EdAid and Women Who Code, while HSBC’s sold-out panel discussion on D&I was chaired by Diana Biggs HSBC Head of Innovation - and included Ashleigh Ainsley from Colour in Tech.
A panel discussion hosted by Compare the Market looked at how successful innovation can only be achieved with inclusive businesses and how diversity is imperative in driving innovation, while the popular Wonder Women Tech foundation’s conference returned for its second year at London Tech Week over the whole of Friday.
The largest women and diversity-focused conference and career fair during London Tech Week, it aimed to highlight, celebrate and educate women and other underrepresented groups in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths).
Lively talks and discussions covered everything from social innovation, fashion tech/wearables, fintech, interactive technology and diversity and inclusion – with speakers including Felicia Williams, content strategist at Facebook and Mark Martin, co-founder of UKBlackTech.
“Full inclusivity is not a hiring problem, but a culture problem,” noted morning keynote speaker, Director of Global Inclusion for IBM, Joanne Watson. “It is all about fairness, respect and accountability” – echoing points made at many events throughout the week.
Speaking at Thursday evening’s event ‘Programming Diversity into the Tech Industry’, hosted by Handle Recruitment and Kobalt Music, chair of Kobalt’s diversity committee Dawn James got the biggest clap of the evening when outlining her biggest annoyance when talking about issues of inclusion, “People say, ‘I don’t believe in diversity, I believe in talent and in hiring the best person for the job. I don’t see colour’.”
It’s very ‘noble’ to be blind to diversity, but you are ignoring the presence of privilege and bias and everyone needs to step up and say we need to think about these things.
And these were things at the forefront of discussions on the panel, which also included Kat Bowles, Director of People and Talent at OpenSignal and Cynthia Davis CEO and founder of BAME Recruitment.
The big question under debate was how organisations can best tackle creating a welcoming culture and sense of real belonging - and how to surmount the challenges faced when building diversity programmes and trying to gain buy-in from businesses.
For Cynthia Davis, good intentions are not enough, and agency and action are key in D&I at all levels. “Don’t be afraid to challenge your organisation around diversity and inclusion, you all have a voice and you all have a responsibility. Use your voice; if something is not right in your organisation don’t be afraid to call it out. Your voice is so powerful.”
And all agreed that technology itself also had a powerful role to play in sharing inspirational stories with girls at a young age in schools to encourage entry into the industry. As Kat Bowles noted, the first computer programmers were women and every innovation now rests on work they did before coding became “something men did” in the 1970s.
In terms of barriers, recruitment was also a particularly hot topic and Dawn James talked of the importance of not being afraid to break down every single part of your recruitment process if needed - from where you’re looking, to how job descriptions are worded, how you’re interacting with your candidates, how your interviewers are interacting with them and how you’re talking to candidates afterwards.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help with that. It’s really hard to look outside of your own company and see what it might look like to someone who is not like you” she said, in a powerful conclusion.
“If you think the candidates aren’t out here then you are either looking in the wrong places - or you’re looking in the wrong ways.”