A lack of diversity is one of the biggest problems at the heart of the tech industry and it’s crucial that we fix it.
After all, technology isn’t created to isolate, offend or prioritise certain individuals; it’s built to enhance all our lives. Yet a lack of diversity in tech affects two of the industries we work with most: technology and marketing.
But aside from our ingrained feeling of “of course it’s the right thing to do”, why is diversity important and why does greater diversity ultimately lead to a better output? Let’s take a closer look.
Diversity and technology
Research has proven time and again that diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas leads to better teams, better products and better access to some of the highest-paying jobs in the world for women and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) individuals.
While some see diversity as a series of boxes to tick, positive discrimination for the sake of it, or just good company PR, consider this: when diverse teams build our technology, that technology gets better. When more genders and ethnicities are behind the product, that product better fulfils the needs and wants of more of its users. It really is common sense.
Big data, big problems
But what mishaps occur when tech’s creators are homogenous? Let’s take a real-life example where a lack of diversity resulted in a performance that was seriously lacking.
Google recently came under fire for its inability to recognise people of different ethnicities in its facial recognition technology. As you would expect, this caused quite a stir.
The tech used in Google photos classified black people as “gorillas”. This was the product of a) the software not being tested or trained by a representative and diverse group of people and b) using a limited data set that, like many we see today, “fell short in coverage and balance [and did] not reflect the faces we see in the world.”
But can we really be surprised? When we look at the statistics today, it’s mostly white men building the technology of tomorrow, showcasing a distinct lack of diversity.
It’s not to say this type of person shouldn’t fulfil this job role, but wouldn’t it be better if a greater variety of people were involved?
Digging a little deeper
One of the key criticisms aimed specifically at AI-powered algorithms (which are becoming more common) is that they can be susceptible to human bias.
Media portrayals often simplify the explanation of AI algorithm bias by saying the training data and the pool it is collected from is biased. However, it goes back way further than that.
Without being monitored and guided, bias can actually creep in long before the data is collected. It can be introduced when the end goal of the technology is computerised. For example, if it found that “giving out subprime loans was an effective way to maximise profit, it would end up engaging in predatory behaviour even if that wasn’t the company’s intention for its use”.  We clearly have some deep learning to do ourselves here.
And these technologies are of course not created in isolation – they affect other industries too. As facial recognition tools play a bigger role in fighting crime, for example, inbuilt racial biases raise troubling questions about the systems that create them and how they can perpetuate injustice.
These aren’t the technologies of tomorrow; these flawed technologies are being used today. And if they are not addressed, their biases will be continued.
Why is diversity important in the marketing industry?
Arguably, one of the most important ingredients for creative thinking is diversity.
The best ideas come from a fusion of different backgrounds coming together to create something better and more insightful than they would ever create from one singular viewpoint, background, emotion or knowledge base.
That’s why studies have often shown that one assured way of improving your creativity is to move abroad. Completely immersing yourself in a new culture, learning new ways of doing things and, in short, diversifying your life makes you more creative.
So, whether working alone or as a team, for creative industries, diversity is pretty much non-negotiable.
Seeing the benefits
In more concrete terms, if an organisation is still on the fence about whether or not diversity should be a priority, they should look at McKinsey’s Diversity Dividend. It explains the competitive and financial advantage diversity brings across all industries, including marketing.
McKinsey’s research found, “the most gender diverse quarter of companies were 20% more likely than the least diverse to have above average financial performance”.
And for ethnic diversity, it’s a 35% increased chance very diverse companies will financially outperform the least diverse ones.
And of course, this makes perfect sense. It’s marketing 101. The more your company’s internal team reflects the diverse makeup of the audience they are trying to target, the more likely they are to effectively deliver products and services that the audience really wants and needs.
But what’s the flipside of not embracing diversity within your teams? Well, ignoring it will cut you off from new creative talent. According to the Institute for Public Relations, 47% of millennials in the United States cite diversity and inclusion as important factors in a job search.
So, the answer to countering a lack of diversity seems to lie firmly in hiring and retaining the best talent from a variety of backgrounds. Diversity is critical to financial performance for the marketing industry – or any business, for that matter – hoping to create future-proof innovations.
Where we’re at
So, although there has been a noticeable push within tech and marketing “to improve the human ingredients for cooking up better technology recipes” by increasing talent in STEM subjects, the impact new technologies have on our working lives and different communities is surprisingly often overlooked.
In our opinion, the answer is simple. Where ideas and creativity are concerned, diversity has a lot to offer.
We must proactively counter this lack of diversity as it continues to creep into our own industries of tech and creativity and out into the world. We must be vigilant by questioning biased technologies and demanding better. We must make sure the hiring processes and environments in our workplaces are inclusive and supportive enough to attract the very best new talent.
For innovation to be truly great, diversity is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity.
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