Overcoming Barriers to Increase Equality and Diversity in Digital

Current Trends and Future World of Work

So where are we heading? The future world of work is set to be a digital one, we need to make sure we are considering our workers and teams, so we keep them along with us for the digital adventure.

As the face of digital is sadly changing the way we shop – we see big high-street retailers closing their physical stores – we also see a variety of vacancies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and digital-heavy roles like coding and programming are remaining unfilled, finding there is a massive current lack in this type of skilled worker.

We also see a big rise over the past 10 years in self-employed workers, otherwise know as freelancers – within this we include 8% of the new “gig economy worker” which has been born out of working for app based companies like Deliveroo and Uber – pros and cons there for another blog maybe.

By 2025 we are set to see three quarters of the workforce made up from the Millennials generation (born between 180 and 1996) alongside upto 30% of the current jobs impacted by automation.

We are currently in the “algorithm” era and computers are still learning from us mere mortal human beings in a process called “machine learning” – now is the time to start the conversations about how this impacts on your teams, and what skills gaps need to be attended to before then.

The problem is, many digital skills are already “expected”, such as…

  • Accessing Pay Slips Online
  • Booking/Swapping shifts in-app
  • Submitting reports/time sheets
  • Emailing internally & externally
  • Creating/Posting/Uploading Job Apps
  • Using Stock-taking/Evaluation Software

When 87% of companies think digital is a competitive opportunity, why are not more investing in training their staff and workers?

At the moment we know that 8% of the UK lack any basic digital skills at all and a staggering 21% of the UK population lack the 5 basic digital skills as laid out by the Nation Standards for Digital Skills.

These 5 skills are sub-headed by…

  1. communicating
  2. handling information and content
  3. transacting
  4. problem solving
  5. being safe and legal online

But are we getting ahead of ourselves? Why do we assume everyone has digital skills in the workplace. This may be because we see someone at work running a particular piece of equipment or using a specific app, programme or process to complete their daily tasks, but those could just be what we would call “technology skills” – a learned tech skill to complete a task, but ask that same person if they have the 5 “digital skills”, they may not! We’ve worked with organisations where their teams are really good at what they do, but lack the basic 5 digital skills, don’t assume anything, always ask. And for those of you who think that it’s all about age – it’s not – a Princes Trust report a few years ago found that 70% of 16-24 year olds felt they lacked the confidence and right digital skills for the workplace – so next time you think “oh x will do our social media, they’re young, they’re on their phone all the time” – it might be they are proficient in chat apps and messaging systems, but might not know how to talk your brand or use your online systems to access the apps they’ve previously used via mobile devices.

This assumption may not be on purpose or in a malicious way, but may be an unconscious bias. One we have brought with us through life and is based on our own ingrained beliefs and lifestyles.

These effect 90-95% of humans and can be described as…

“Unconscious (or implicit) biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal, and able to influence behaviour.” Wikipedia

So where does unconscious bias show up in digital?

Well, the simple answer is everywhere!

It can be seen at all stages in the digital process – including recruitment, retention and promotion; it’s present in language, behaviour and decisions and from an equality perspective is usually based on outdated assumption. On occasions sadly this can also be discriminatory attacking Protected Characteristics. This can also go hand in hand with unconscious bias around people who also have multiple facets of their person – education level, English language (or language they are working in), living conditions and political beliefs – the term coined to describe this is “intersectionality”.

For example, in the past few years a big health tech business FitBit have only just after many years, released the option for tracking female health on their tech and apps – this was never in initial releases because both their development team and programmers were all male and hadn’t thought it would be a fabulous feature!

Then there’s the iPhone facial recognition lock screens that didn’t recognise you if you had certain skin types or facial features. This make us think, they didn’t user test their products with a diverse user group, otherwise why would they have released it excluding some of it’s users?

A great read if you’re into algorithms is Algorithms of Oppression – How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble – a really eye-opening read!

So what are the barriers to digital?

So those assumptions we made earlier on, are based on our unconscious bias (which we’ve now noticed and we can learn from right?) we now know not to assume people are connected to the internet!

You now won’t be surprised to hear that 11% of the UK has no regular access to connectivity and as an additional barrier, disabled people have a 16.5% rate of being permanently offline.

Top Barriers to Digital

  1. “It’s not for me”/Confidence
  2. Access to information/guidance/learning
  3. Fear – it’s too complicated, robots are taking over, or fear of security or breaking the internet – yes those are all real-world issues we’ve heard directly from our learners over the years!
  4. Cost/Internet Connectivity
  5. Technical Skills
  6. Don’t know what you don’t know

Think about how this might effect migrant workers where English isn’t their first or ever second language, or women returning to the workforce after a period of time off (60% of them say they lack the confidence and digital skills to rejoin the workforce straight away!)

What next? How do we make sure we leave no one behind?

The biggest part of inclusivity is giving everyone the opportunity – this may not be delivered or offered in the same way, but should equate to the same access. If then people choose still not to engage – we called this section of the population “digitally dismissive” – then that’s fine, as long as they have had the opportunity and support offered.

Some of our ideas include…

  • More varied and representative promotional content/images/literature – the age old saying, you can’t be what you can’t see – if you’re trying to engage your team, make sure it looks like it’s for them and including them!
  • Unconscious bias training
  • Find the hook/interest – the biggest element for introductory basic digital skills training – if you get the response “not interested” is it just because they don’t know how empowering and useful digital can be? Do they want to find recipes online, save money on their car insurance or video call friends on the other side of the world? Listening to them and learning what makes them tick means you can offer a bespoke hook for them – something we love to do and is massively rewarding!!! 😀
  • Un bias recruitment processes – we’ve now supported the Manchester jobs market to get 16% of their adverts using gender-neutral language!
  • Support for different sectors/people
  • In/Out/Returning to work training – for example our Women Returners Digital Skills training
  • Accessible working environments
  • Reasonable adjustments
  • Lifelong learning & CPD for workers

It’s clear that everyone has their own intersectionality elements, and with that their own personal barriers, so next time you’re considering how to tackle your lack of up-to-date digital skills in your team, ask your team what’s holding them back and how you can help them get the most out of digital. Even better, get some bespoke training for your organisation or team – invest in your people, and you’ll see the business and team can grow along with it, so everyone can benefit.

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