What we learned from Tech Inclusion London: Push past awareness, past advocacy and into action

Bloomberg’s Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Pamela Hutchinson

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion we are great talkers and thinkers, but not great doers”. These were the words of analytical storyteller Suki Fuller, speaking on-stage at the 2nd annual Tech Inclusion London conference, hosted on Monday, November 26, 2018, at Bloomberg London.

Throughout the course of the day’s program, many individuals with diverse backgrounds – and even broader perspectives – touched on far-reaching topics ranging from the talent pipeline to building inclusive products, and from future cultures to ally-ship. Yet, one theme remained constant: now is the time for action. “Don’t reward people for simply showing up or not being hateful,” said ThoughtWorks’ Dr. J Harrison. “Being a neutral bystander is not enough. We can, and should, all be role models and changemakers.”

With its theme, “Voices of Innovation”, this year’s Tech Inclusion London brought together a diverse array of speakers from underrepresented communities to share their thoughts on how to build more inclusive technologies and cultures. With sessions such as “Don’t Blame the Pipeline”, which tackled the belief that a diverse workforce isn’t accessible for employers, and “#WorkingWhileMuslim”, which revealed how the standard workplace culture is inconsiderate of practicing Muslims, the conference backed up its theme of taking action by providing attendees with practical, actionable steps to apply themselves.

Prayer rooms, halal food, non-alcoholic offerings at social events, and including Islamic holidays in a benefits package are all simple considerations Western employers can make to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment, Muslamic Makers’ Taz Latif told the audience. Yet the reality is that few put these in place. The reasons why may not come down to a single cause, but a simple lack of consideration for the needs of all cultures and religions is certainly a factor. “You need to build with inclusivity from the start, but you can only do so with empathy,” said Expedia’s Jack Armley.

Muslamic Makers’ Taz Latif

The day’s discussion naturally focused on inclusion in the tech sector, with much attention on how to guarantee that the industry produces technologies that are not only inclusive themselves, but can also help create a more inclusive future. One of the executives that represented Bloomberg in this discussion was Christine Flounders, London Engineering Manager.

To her, building more inclusive products and solutions for Bloomberg customers is rooted in the team working on them. That’s why the company focuses on supporting all of its employees, regardless of backgrounds or abilities, through leadership training and creating an inclusive workplace.

“It is paramount that the people who make up the organisation are as diverse as possible,” she said. “We have invested in creating an inclusive environment where differences in background, gender, nationality, ethnicity, and ways of thinking bring greater value.”

Referencing the work done on the Bloomberg Terminal, she shared her belief that inclusive organisations that are more considerate of marginalised groups will ultimately be able to accomplish more with their product development – creating greater customer satisfaction and benefitting the bottom line.

Christine Flounders, Regional Manager for Bloomberg Engineering in London

Wayne Barlow, Head of Engineering for Market and Community Applications and one of our Diversity & Inclusion Champions, served as a panelist during the “Future of Technology” session. He shared that data collection and manipulation will have a huge impact on how technology influences diversity and inclusion.

“In the machine learning space, there are lots of examples where you don’t really have a diverse data set or you’re dealing with bias. On those occasions you’re going to end up with models that produce a bad output by marginalising a group,” he noted.

He also echoed Flounders’ value in an inclusive team, adding that “We also need to make sure we have a diverse set of annotators. It’s not just one factor.”

The Tech Inclusion series was brought to Bloomberg London by its creator, Change Catalyst, together with Engineering Manager and Diversity & Inclusion Champion Laurent Romieux. As the event’s co-organiser, Romieux was able to share his thoughts on the importance of its wide-ranging discussion. “If it is not broad enough, people don’t feel involved. I think that talking about it holistically is the right thing to do. It’s the only way we’ll become inclusive.”

Tech Inclusion London made clear that diversity and inclusion aren’t about focusing on a particular group, or several – it’s about everyone. That means not just feeling success over who is in the room, but instead thinking about who isn’t, and being a voice for them and ensuring they are represented alongside you. “A successful tech ecosystem promotes diversity, fosters inclusion and improves equity for everyone,” said Change Catalyst’s Founder and CEO, Melinda Briana Epler.

The conference was not only powerful because it provided a platform for diverse people who care, but also because many of those people were able to share their personal experiences.

Bloomberg’s Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Pamela Hutchinson, who spoke of challenging racism and sexism throughout her career, provided perhaps the most poignant words of the day: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got – let’s change the narrative! Diversity doesn’t necessarily equal inclusion, but inclusion does allow for diversity.”

Three ways to create change

  1. Systems and processes – You don’t always have to convince people to change. You can change systems, processes and policies – on a national or local scale, or internally at your workplace.
  2. Storytelling – The stories that we tell each other are hugely important. In areas where the media is engaged and involved in D&I conversations, the tech environment is more inclusive because the stories being told are pushing companies to create change. And representation in storytelling also matters. If you see yourself in the story, you’re more likely to engage with it and take advantage of the opportunities and information available.
  3. See it as something you can create – Too often we think that change is the responsibility of someone else, or a specific department. D&I isn’t something in the distance – it’s you and I. All of us can be allies for each other.