The digital marketing industry has taken strides to encourage demographic diversity, but cognitive diversity – which refers to the plurality of mindsets and perspectives within an organisation – has often been overlooked. Vijayanta Gupta, Global VP of Product Marketing at Sitecore discusses steps that the tech industry can take to become more cognitively diverse.
While the tech industry has taken steps in recent years to encourage diversity, there is still further to go and more ways to address the lack of representation of certain groups. Across all industries, businesses are more effective when there is a diverse and inclusive workforce in place. In fact, companies with more diverse management teams can unlock greater innovation leading to 19% higher revenues. Therefore, the more unique backgrounds, experiences and opinions that are brought to the table – and listened to – the better the ideas that are shared and the more effective the decisions reached.
In recent years, organisations have tended to focus efforts on encouraging demographic diversity and embracing employees and teams from different races, ethnicities and genders. We have made some progress, though a lot is still to be done. To fully maximise the benefits of diversity, businesses in the tech sector and beyond must now focus on a parameter of diversity that most likely doesn’t get enough attention. They need to look beyond diversity in terms of physical or visible traits and achieve cognitive diversity.
So, what do we mean by cognitive diversity and what measures should companies put in place to achieve it?
The move to cognitive diversity
Achieving cognitive diversity means creating a workforce that includes a plurality of mindsets and outlooks. Building teams and organisations that are cognitively diverse starts with hiring people with a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and upbringing, as they will bring different life experiences and perspectives to the business, and therefore enrich the discussion and decision-making processes.
It is also important to embrace neurodiversity within the workforce, including employing more people with ADHD, dyslexia or autism, for example. This further encourages diversity of thought and provides a different approach to overcoming challenges and making business decisions.
Once a diverse team is in place, companies must create an environment where everyone is listened to, respected and taken into consideration. This is to ensure that all feel empowered to share their views and opinions despite of how different they are from one another. When all team members believe their differences are a strength to the business, not something that needs to be changed or supressed, businesses will thrive.
Finally, steps must also be taken to ensure that decisions, at any and every level, are being made based on the opinion and perspectives of everyone involved. Beyond simply listening to what everyone has to say, business strategy and plans must reflect the knowledge that everyone within the business brings to the table.
It starts with grassroots
As well as creating diverse teams and workforces within tech companies, the industry also has a responsibility to ensure there is a more diverse pipeline and talent pool being developed through education. With only 3% of female A-Level students considering a career in technology as their first choice, there is a lot of work to be done to make careers within the technology sector more appealing to young women.
Tech companies can help by doing more work at a grassroots level, encouraging both girls and boys from a variety of backgrounds to study STEM subjects at GCSE level, A-Level and as degree choices. Going into school and universities to encourage young people to enter the industry or offering them work experience, internships or graduate schemes, where students can get first-hand experience of the industry, are effective ways to bring awareness of tech-sector careers to those who may have not otherwise considered one.
Overcoming gender imbalances
Encouraging girls to enter the STEM sectors at an early age is one way can overcome the gender imbalance which is rife within the industry, as shown by the Office for National Statistics which found women account for only 16.8% of the UK’s tech sector workforce. However, when you consider research from PwC found that only 5% of leadership roles in the industry are held by women, more also needs to be done to address the imbalance and support women so they can climb the career ladder.
One way to redress this balance is to put more measures in place to support women to continue and advance their careers throughout various life stages, such as with quality maternity packages and support when returning to the workplace. Getting back to work after maternity leave can be overwhelming, so making sure that new mothers feel supported and valued as they re-enter their career is essential. While this has been improving, particularly in the technology industry, it remains an issue and one in four women in 2019 faced a skills gap that prevented them from returning to work after having children. As well as this, new mothers may feel unwelcome, or worry about being perceived by others as being no longer as focused on career development, as two thirds are primary carers for their children as well as working full time.
Formal training and programmes to upskill them in new or updated skills that they may require, would not just make them feel comfortable at work more quickly but would also be beneficial for the success of the business in the long run.
Widening the recruitment pool
Finally, employers must make efforts to expand the recruitment process and talent pool to get access to more talent from across different areas.
To do so, HR and recruitment teams should consider more applicants from non-traditional backgrounds and experiences, which may not have been looked at in the past. For example, those without university degrees may not have the qualifications often required for technical roles, but could have transferrable skills gained through other work or life experiences, which can be easily adapted to suit a role.
In conclusion, encouraging diversity, across many sectors and walks of life, has been on the agenda for a long time. However, this doesn’t mean we can sit back in the belief that it has been done adequately, or that there isn’t more work to be done. Instead of feeling complacent, the recruitment policies in place, facilities provided to employees and grassroots activity must all continue to develop and improve. In order for a truly diverse industry to exist, which goes beyond just box-ticking exercises or using diversity only as a source of competitive advantage, this must be seen as a continuous process and one which still has room for improvement.
By Vijayanta Gupta
Global VP Product & Industry Marketing