Serial entrepreneur Lopa Patel has called on tech companies to take the lead on closing the ‘diversity gap’ to strengthen the sector.
Patel founded online businesses Redhotcurry.com and TheRedhotshop.com before setting up think tank Diversity UK, which she presides over as CEO.
Four years ago Diversity UK conducted research with Wayra which confirmed that women are underrepresented in the tech sector but that that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) representation was better than expected.
The organisation published a list of the Top 100 Asians in Tech on the back of that research and is now trying to encourage more women and BAME entrepreneurs to get into tech, form diverse teams and set up businesses.
Speaking at a special meeting of diversity champions organised by BusinessCloud, she said: “The diversity gap begins with how start-ups are founded. Chances are they’re set up with people the founders know and trust, so it tends to be males who are friends. That’s perpetuated, plus investors come from traditional corporate environments which are also male.
“Change is already happening though because people are realising diversity brings a multitude of insights so you end up with a stronger company.
“We’re at the start of the change and I’d like to see it happen in the next decade. I’d love to think our work wouldn’t be necessary after that but as a celebration of diversity it’s something we enjoy.”
You can watch a video interview with Patel above. BusinessCloud will be running a series of interviews with diversity champions throughout this week and next
Patel’s advice to companies is to do an audit to find out exactly who’s working for them and where they came from. When looking to make changes, hiring from coding courses rather than universities can make a difference.
“Ask yourself why you want to make these changes,” she said. “Sometimes it’s market-led, depending on the product or service.
“Then set targets around where the changes must happen and go out to the marketplace to work with organisations that are strong in recruitment for the tech sector, then review your progress.
“It’s all about slow steps.”
Patel is pushing the importance of digital skills for all to ensure everyone leaves school thinking scientifically and with some coding skills.
“It’s important to acquire them if you don’t get them at school because most businesses now are digital businesses,” she said. “There are lots of clubs and organisations that can help. Everyone should have these skills because it’ll give you a lot of confidence in yourself.
“For example, a journalist writing an article also has to think about the meta tags and keywords and how people will be able to find it in a search engine, so you do need tech skills in any job.
“We also need to think about re-skilling the older generation and people who want to learn just for the sake of learning so they’re not mystified by the tech around them.
“Even if you’re worried about the skills becoming out of date, the thing is to learn the basics… then you have a good starting block.”
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