Tech Talent Charter to disband after nearly 10 years of operation by StuffsEarth

Estimated read time 29 min read

As the adage goes, if you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.

For the past eight years, the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) has been gathering data and best practice to teach the technology industry how to fish for, and retain, diverse talent.

But its most recent report highlighted a number of concerning patterns emerging in the sector, including a lack of leadership buy-in and the risk of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives becoming performative rather than intentional.

Maintaining that it was never the intention to reinvent the wheel, the CEO of the not-for profit, Debbie Forster, told Computer Weekly it’s time to close, rather than risk the shift towards giving out fish rather than sustainable growth.

She said: “This is not about money – we’re sitting on reserves. The Tech Talent Charter could have kept going another five to 10 years, but not lived by the mission that we set ourselves out to do. We are at a crucial time in the development of tech. It’s never been more important at a watershed moment in tech to ensure that tech for everyone is made by everyone.

“But the very rules in which we set up have run their course. To keep doing it that way would be to be part of what is becoming a plateau.”

Formed in 2015 as the brainchild of Sinead Bunting, international marketing director at The Athletic, the Tech Talent Charter recognised that data was the key to success.

The past decade has seen many diversity and inclusion initiatives aim to increase the number of women and underrepresented groups in the tech sector, but without collecting, publishing and measuring data, it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t.

The TTC’s mission was to “provide concrete measurement and insights into diversity in the tech ecosystem and actionable ways forward by gathering, curating and distributing innovative practices, techniques and ideas” with the ultimate goal of creating a diverse and inclusive tech ecosystem in the UK.

As well as collecting and publishing documents sharing best practice for finding, hiring and keeping diverse workers, for the past seven years the charter has published reports showing the landscape of diversity within its signatories to benchmark the number of women and people from ethnic minorities working in tech, as well as the number of people from other underrepresented groups.

Its most recent report found that among TTC signatories, 29% of tech workers in the UK are women or non-binary – an increase from 26% in 2019 – and people from minority ethnic groups make up around a quarter of tech workers. There was also an increase in data collection about other characteristics of tech employees.

Because signatories are the firms and organisations making a conscious effort towards DE&I, these figures are more positive than those of the wider industry. BCS figures recently showed just 1% growth across five years in the number of women in tech to account for 20%, with people of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds making up only 20% of UK tech workers.

While the trend is generally upwards, these figures are slow moving, and the Office for National Statistics found the number of women in tech dropped at one point in 2023.

Like everything TTC does, the decision to close was led by data. The figures show a lot progress has been made – not only have numbers within signatories gone up, but more data is being collected on the diversity of the tech workforce than ever before. The conversation around diversity in tech has also shifted in the past 10 years, moving away from just getting women into tech roles to include topics such as ability, age, neurodivergence, ethnicity and intersectionality.

But the sector has also reached a turning point. Some companies are cutting funding for DE&I, or “shelving” it to work on other projects; some are sharing data but not “driving action”; and others are dropping DE&I because they are no longer hiring without considering the impact a lack of inclusion can make on already-won talent.

Forster explained now is an “inflection point to pause”, look at the industry, convene, see what has been achieved and consider how best to continue.

She said: “Not everything’s gone and broken. Nor is it everything is fine. There is a point at which some companies are quiet quitting, some are dialling back, some are continuing. So it’s important for us to step back and do what we’ve always said – connect, convene, amplify.

“We need to shine a light for those companies that are going to continue to double down, drive action, invest in change – that should be honoured – but [others] cannot hide behind a membership [of] a charter or a hashtag.”

I hope this serves as a wake-up call for companies. With the TTC closing, there will be no more hand-holding. It is now up to those firms to ensure that the progress made over the last 10 years is not lost, and that we put DE&I practices that drive tangible outcomes back on the agenda
Vanessa Vallely, WeAreTechWomen

The TTC has been notorious for making its members accountable for following its guidelines, with some in the past booted from the organisation for failing to meet its data collection and publishing criteria, but when asked whether removing this accountability would risk a backslide, Forster explained: “That was never what we were about.”

In fact. this is part of the reason the TTC has chosen to step back from its work – it feared that with the growing change in the sector it would be used as lip service for performative DE&I initiatives, concerned that by saying they are part of the charter, firms may be able to appear to be making an effort to progress when in fact their actions don’t reflect their words.

As Vanessa Vallely, CEO of WeAreTechWomen, put it: “Over the past decade, [TTC has] guided numerous companies in implementing best practices for tech DE&I, leaving a lasting legacy of transformative ideas, playbooks and resources.

“Ideally, their closure would signal that their work is done, that the companies driving change have successfully embedded inclusion and diversity practices into their businesses and are seeing substantial improvements.

“Unfortunately, that is not the case; they are closing because, despite their best efforts, we are regressing in terms of inclusion in the tech industry.

“I sincerely hope this serves as a wake-up call for companies. With the TTC closing, there will be no more hand-holding. It is now up to those firms to ensure that the progress made over the last 10 years is not lost, and that we put DE&I practices that drive tangible outcomes back on the agenda.”

The resources produced by The TTC, including its Open Playbook and D&I directory, will all still be available for free, and its remaining financial reserves will be given to other not-for-profits working in the tech diversity space.

Finally, Karen Blake, TTC’s co-CEO, had the following advice for what organisations can do next to continue the push for diversity in the space:

  • Recognise the reality: The skills gap is real and won’t disappear by magic. Audit your needs and actions as an organisation and create a gap analysis. Be honest about what has been achieved and allow that to inform your strategic work. Be planful in what you really need to do as an organisation to drive inclusivity in your teams and your products.
  • Measure and review your data: As we become more sophisticated in the workforce data we collect, are we being brave enough to let it tell us the true story even when that is a difficult truth? Look and receive the insights that your data set shows. Challenge your teams to analyse the intersectional insight. Ensure you understand the skills profiles of your team. This will unlock a more equitable and successful environment for future development.
  • Invest and make it count: Invest your time and attention. Progress is absolutely possible, but it can only be achieved if we are active, agile and alert. By doing so, you will reap the rewards of a deeper inclusive culture and a more resilient business.
  • Share and learn: Share your experiences, add your voice, and listen to others to help map priorities for the future.”

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