"I genuinely believe that firms that are getting this will get ahead, and you will be punished if you don't get it."
The channel perhaps expects to hear such bold statements about a new technology or a trend, but Debbie Forster, CEO of the Tech Talent Charter, is talking about diversity in the workplace.
The publication of gender pay gap reports earlier this year caused quite a stir, highlighting the issues surrounding pay disparity.
But for the tech sector the issue is as much about a lack of women in the industry as it is about pay inequality. This is a problem that the Tech Talent Charter quietly set about addressing even before gender pay reporting hit the mainstream media.
"We are working with employers to give them the tools and information they'll need," Forster said.
"We will publish an annual benchmarking report that allows companies look at the data and see what is happening across the country to see if they are ahead or behind the game, so they can do something better.
"If you can access best practices and work with other companies in a constructive way, then you can start finding solutions."
The Tech Talent Charter does not have any strict rules in place that its members have to abide by. Forster said this is because the best practices for a multibillion-dollar goliath will not be the same as they will be for an SMB with 10 employees.
The single requirement, she said, is that all members must make their gender pay data available to the charter.
The charter gives its members access to resources which offer guidance on how to boost diversity in the workplace, and arranges events up and down the country where organisations can share their successes and their failures.
"It's a focus on the practical and sharing best practices in a collaborative way," Forster said.
"We boil down what companies have to do to four simple things: they commit to people, plan, practice and provide data and they don't have to pay to join.
"We don't give people a pro forma because if you do that it becomes something that is bolted on, and everyone knows that by Q2, whatever is bolted on has fallen off. But it is important to have a plan that is baked into the company."
Forster's assessment of the tech industry's hiring culture is damning. She claims that the lack of diversity stems from failures in the education system, which is then compounded by an unwillingness to change from employers.
"We have to accept that the whole pipeline is utterly broken," she said.
"This is back to early inspiration in schools, to recruitment, to retaining talent and growing it up into the board.
"Just getting companies to tweak job descriptions in adverts isn't going to help and no single company or initiative can fix it by themselves."
The Tech Talent Charter was launched in March 2015, but started to gain traction towards the end of last year when the government pledged to support it. The government has since given the initiative £170,000 in funding.
The charter saw its profile in the channel raised last month, when industry giant Softcat signed up.
Speaking to CRN, Softcat's HR director Rebecca Monk Monk said that Softcat is not just looking to just help women into senior roles, but also get more women into the industry in general.
"There are two main elements; one is the recruitment aspect," she said. "We are more of a sales company than an IT company and because of that, and because we are selling technology, we just don't get enough women applying to work in sales.
"It's OK saying ‘we really want to improve our gender diversity' but if we don't have women applying for the jobs, that is a fundamental issue.
"We have lots of women in HR and in back-office functions but not in the sales roles and technical roles. That's something that is echoed in the charter."
The second element is creating an environment that makes women want to stay in the IT industry, Monk said.
"We want to get them in and make sure that they achieve their potential and enjoy working for Softcat," she explained.
"It's such an alpha male-type industry; it is not necessarily the most encouraging place for women to work so we need to make sure that the way we run our business, even with things such as maternity policy, is as welcoming to women as they are to men."
Don't go too far
Both Forster and Monk said that introducing demands or quotas to the charter, or indeed the law, forcing organisations to shortlist a certain number of women for job vacancies would be counter-intuitive.
Forster said that organisations shouldn't be looking to improve their diversity because they have to; they should want to do it because it can improve their business and the industry they work in - as well as society in general.
"It's great that we are not just talking anecdotally," she explained. "There are some great stats that are suggesting that improving diversity isn't just the right thing to do, but that it has great bottom-line effects. It can affect your ability to move into new markets and your ability to deal with disruption.
"We have tried to set this up [so it's clear that] we are doing the right thing for business reasons.
"There is obviously good PR [in joining] but it is a great business opportunity to learn things inexpensively."
It is for this reason that the Tech Talent Charter doesn't insist on its members meeting certain criteria.
Softcat's Monk previously worked at Universal and explained that US law requires employers to have a diverse range of applicants on shortlists for jobs.
"In America there is actually a law, so you have to have a shortlist with a diverse ethnicity [of candidates] but in the UK we don't go that far because, in my experience, it is sometimes not helpful. You can end up shoehorning someone onto a shortlist to tick a box," she said. "I'm glad we haven't gone that far.
"[The charter] is not about saying ‘we will do X, Y and Z' because sometimes that isn't possible, but we have pledged that we will stick to the commitments that we have made and 99 per cent of the time we will be able to do that.
"Our chief executive Graeme Watt has said it is really important to him that we get more women in, but he is not telling people to make the wrong hiring decisions," she said. "That would be the opposite of what we want to achieve as a business.
"What he is hoping we can achieve is attracting more women to the business so we can give them more opportunity. If they're on a level playing field then they can apply for a job or a promotion, and the hiring manager can make a decision as to who the best candidate is. But the fact is, if we don't have them in the business we can't do that."
The charter, along with the publication of gender pay gap reports, has already started to show positive effects in the industry.
Monk explained that job applicants at Softcat are starting to ask about the firm's policy around diversity and enquiring about its gender pay gap - meaning that awareness is rising.
But Forster warned that the charter alone - or any single initiative, for that matter - is not enough to make meaningful changes in the tech industry.
"Joining the Tech Talent Charter doesn't give you the secret key to the cave where all the women are," she quipped.
"For companies to treat this like a trade secret [and not work together] is the equivalent of buying a shiny, expensive fishing rod but then going to the same leaky barrel that everyone else is."
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