You know there’s a problem in the tech industry when statistics like this no longer come as much of a surprise.

Eliminating bias in the tech industry at the application and interview stage

Sky News recently reported that 39% of women say “they’ve been denied a significant opportunity at work because of their gender”.

It’s certainly not the first time that this problem has been highlighted. Unfortunately, it’s also unlikely to be the last time.

Creating progressive tech environments

Creating environments in which women working within technology can realistically progress their careers and expect promotion at the same rate as men has been an issue for years now.

It’s precisely because of this progression problem that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has unveiled a £7m tech careers programme.

This initiative – called the Digital Talent Programme – has been created with the aim of “boosting the proportion of women in the industry, which currently stands at just 17 per cent. It will also work to increase black, Asian and minority ethnic Londoners and those from disadvantaged communities who are employed in these crucial sectors of the capital’s economy.”

Making a lasting impact

However, while the programme is clearly another step in the right direction, the issue isn’t just entry into the tech industry. It’s also about proactively creating promotion opportunities for women at junior levels.

Even if you dramatically increase the number of women entering the sector, this will have little to no lasting impact if they don’t also have the chance to progress from junior to midweight-level roles and beyond.

What is clear however is that women are interested in working in technology. We’ve seen this first-hand, both with our Next Tech Girls who’ve undertaken work experience, and the women who’ve joined our Wall of Inspiration.

Identifying the problem, creating a solution

So, what steps should be taken to make sure that women are given a good chance of progressing within the tech industry? Or are at least given the same opportunities as men.

Is it really enough to simply make sure that an equal number of applications are put forward from both men and women for every position? Or should companies and recruiters go a step further? Rather than merely sending CVs from an equal number of women and men, should they also ensure that they are ‘name-blind’ applications?

This all depends on what the actual problem is. If it’s the case that female applicants aren’t being given a fair chance against the number of male applicants – because they’re outnumbered – then evening out the number of applications between the genders may help to give as many women the chance to progress as men.

However, if the stumbling block is that women are actively being prevented from progressing, or even reaching the interview stage – either because of conscious or unconscious bias – then perhaps something more drastic needs to be done. Such as the introduction of anonymous, name-blind CVs.

Taking gender out of the equation

The supporting argument is that they force hiring decision makers to judge candidates on their skills and experience alone. Completely taking gender out of the equation.

There’s evidence that a much larger number of women reach the interview stage when CVs are stripped of identifying aspects such as gender, race, and even where they went to school. As such, it seems clear that making this a requirement across the tech industry – the norm, rather than the exception – would make a big difference overnight. What’s more, there’s no real case for not doing it.

Of course, applications and CVs are only one part of the hiring process. Getting more women to the interview stage does not guarantee that there will suddenly be a big increase in the number of women hired or promoted to senior roles.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, bias comes back into play as soon as face-to-face meetings are brought into the equation.

Reducing bias in interviews

It’s easier to level the playing field when candidates are presented on paper. Doing so in person is an altogether different challenge. How do you reduce bias in an open, face-to-face situation?

Some companies aim to do this by making use of mixed interview panels, in order to bring together a range of different perspectives and opinions.

These panels could include men, women and members of the LGBT and BAME communities. This creates space for a more balanced view, one that aims to minimise the possibility of discrimination and bias playing a role.

Positive discrimination

Other suggestions include implementing something similar to the US’s Rooney Rule, which is an example of affirmative action. This would make it a requirement for companies to interview minority candidates as part of their hiring or promotion process.

By diversifying both the panels used to interview applicants and the talent pools from which they attract and hire people, companies can give themselves a much better chance of actively diversifying their workforces and promoting more people from minorities into senior positions.

This in turn will help the industry to promote itself as inclusive, creating something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. People from different backgrounds will have more diverse role models to look up to, encouraging them to enter the industry, and so on and so forth.

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