Inclusivity in IT and digital tech

As the chartered institute responsible for professional standards in IT, BCS has a responsibility to drive the continuous process of professionalisation and it is time to renew our focus on standards and accreditation. We are committed to creating workforce cultures and practices fit for industries of the future.

There are further challenges to career progression around race and ethnicity that the industry often fails to understand and acknowledge. Only 8.5 per cent of senior tech leaders were from an ethnic minority background, according to a 2018 report by Inclusive Boards. The 2020 Parker Review found that 59 per cent of firms still had an all-white board.

We must address these shortcomings when looking to improve ethnic diversity within the industry. This needs to start with our pipeline: the new entrants. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) 2019 inquiry into racial harassment at British universities revealed that 24 per cent of ethnic minority students experience racial harassment on campus. Yet two-thirds had not reported the incident.

Also the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported less than 1 per cent of the professors employed at UK universities are black and few British universities employ more than one or two black professors.

Steps are being taken to address this. Former universities minister Chris Skidmore underlined the important role of strategic leadership in his letter to the Committee of University Chairs, encouraging them to take proactive steps to work with university leaders to tackle the issues outlined in the EHRC report.

As an industry we must seek out opportunities to remove harassment and discrimination from professional practice, for the benefit of our own workplace culture and for everyone who depends on world-class IT services led by diverse teams.

This is particularly the case in areas such as artificial intelligence where we know that bias and lack of diversity within the teams creating machine learning can have real consequences. Non-diverse teams may be more likely to follow practices that inadvertently hard-wire bias into new products or services.

In its 2012 review of professionalism in healthcare, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) pointed to the importance of regulations and codes of conduct, while noting professionalism is a fluid construct, informed by the experience and role modelling of those involved; rules are made, used, reviewed and remade over time.

Despite the ubiquity of IT and digital technology, the industry is not representative of society as a whole, and so many people’s expertise and experiences are failing to influence the development of professional standards and the future of the industry.

Definitions and standards of professionalism need continuous work to match the realities of our complex and evolving society.

The HCPC’s report claims: “Professions which are newly ‘professionalised’ may find it harder to gain support and recognition than more established ones.” This is the case for many areas in IT, however I see the evolving nature of our industry as one of our strengths; we can build inclusion, ethical inquiry and impact assessment into the evolving standards of IT professionalism as we develop. Professionalism is human centred, context specific and driven by dynamic and sound judgment as well as a technical skillset.

As BCS president, I am keen to make a positive impact on the institution as well as the wider world of IT and computing, and fully support our renewed focus on promoting professionalism throughout the IT industry. This will ensure inclusive practices, ethical inquiry and impact assessment are effectively built into our accreditation and standards.