Posted on December 30, 2018 by staff

Too many businesses ‘make diversity excuse’


Ada’s List co-founder Anjali Ramachandran is way ahead of the curve when it comes to creating a representative tech sector – and wants more businesses to follow suit.

Ramachandran started Ada’s List on Ada Lovelace Day five years ago after one of her co-founders, who had run a similar initiative in the United States, moved to London and found the UK lacked a ‘women in tech’ community.

Speaking at a special meeting of diversity champions organised by BusinessCloud in London, she said creating a diverse workforce is far from easy and requires time – but businesses must step up to the plate.

“The key thing is that when you measure representation across your business it it’s important to measure it across all the different metrics and not just gender. That’s when companies will be truly enlightened,” she said.

“It’s not easy to hit all of them in one shot, it’s not a box-ticking exercise and people need to know it will take time, but it just has to be done.

“It’s hard work and that’s why it’s not done – people say they can’t find people from these backgrounds. Too bad, that’s your job – you have to go and do the hard work.”

You can watch a video interview with Ramachandran above

The co-founders launched Ada’s List by emailing a few dozen friends asking if they wanted to be a part of the initiative. Five years later it has more than 6,000 members around the world – and this global focus is crucial, says Ramachandran.

“When you build products that are truly representative you wind up with the most successful products,” she said. “Women are 50 per cent of the population and I recently found out 80 per cent of people with disabilities live in emerging markets. Therefore, if we want to truly build for those markets, people need to understand the problems where they live.

“All these stories can be unearthed and communicated in interesting ways.”

Storytelling is another area Ramachandran is passionate about, having founded Storythings, a company which helps companies tell complex stories – such as those around diversity – through blogs, film and more. Her advice for people from underrepresented groups already working within the industry is to take the opportunities where you can.

“It is a pressure because no one wants to be the token black person or woman on a team and it can be very isolating to be that lone person,” she said. “If you’re the only person like you in a company it can be demotivating, especially if there’s no one more senior because it makes you think there’s probably not going to be a role for you in a few years.

“It depends on the company, the work you’re doing and how passionate you are about it – you could be the one to help a company change but if it’s going to be a constant uphill slog, maybe look somewhere else.”

To those running the companies, Ramachandran highlights the need to make sure that once different types of people are brought into a company they feel welcome there. This could involve programmes designed to help returning mums or people who are slightly older feel like part of the workforce; ensuring it’s not all about beer and ping pong; and sponsoring and mentoring employees.

It’s also important to tackle all the issues at the same time, she explains, as there’s no point changing gendered language in job ads to get more people into the company but then not having any opportunities for them once they’re there.

“Having said that, it’s okay to pick your battles,” she says. “If there’s one group of people you’re specifically passionate about that’s okay because realistically there are limited resources.”