As businesses strive to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) workplace, minorities in the tech industry continue to face challenges. In the U.K., 25% of tech workers are from ethnic minority groups — but that number almost halves in senior roles.
At the same time, only 1% of venture capital (VC) funding went to Black founders in 2022, and just 3% of U.K. VCs are Black-led. This highlights a deep systemic problem. If we want the digital revolution to include everyone, it must be built by everyone.
The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund was created to help tackle stark racial inequality in VC funding and drive lasting change within the startup ecosystem — which continues to be a key driver of the U.K. tech sector.
We spoke with the founders of three U.K. startups, all backed by the fund, who are each using technology to boost representation within the wider sector. In connecting more people to the opportunities tech creates, they’re ultimately driving a more diverse industry.
There is so much more businesses can do to reach and engage diverse talent in the tech industry.
Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t my initial goal, but from my own experiences entering the workforce, I realised what an opportunity there was for change. I wanted to build a solution that not only helps companies in hiring diverse talent but also supports new job seekers to build career confidence and truly “go for it”.
That seed became Earlybird. To make it easier for job seekers to open up about their personal circumstances, our technology allows users to answer questions remotely using their voice. This enables employment advisors to better support them from day one.
For instance, a job seeker might not have English as their first language or struggle with processing extensive text or information — a challenge that some neurodivergent individuals face. We believe that our emphasis on personalisation and the ability for people to use their voice offers a much more inclusive approach compared to generic, written-word programmes.
From each conversation, Earlybird extracts key insights and delivers bespoke reports to organisations or employers. This reduces admin and allows employment advisors to assist those most in need to overcome their barriers and enter the workforce.
Essentially, it levels the playing field at the outset of the job search — a crucial yet often overlooked phase. This is especially key in the tech industry, where competition is notoriously fierce.
But it’s important to remember that just because someone secures a job, it doesn’t mean their challenges disappear. True workplace inclusivity, be it in tech or not, requires businesses to understand and address the ongoing struggles their employees might face inside and outside of work.
It’s estimated you’re up to nine times more likely to get hired through a referral. When I read that stat, I knew I had to do something to help bridge the gap for people who might not have an expansive network in the right industry.
I grew up in a low-income, single-parent family — all the good stuff that gives you character — but working in the tech industry for many years, I saw how few people there were like me. Recruitment largely consisted of privileged people who went to private schools and referred their friends to get in.
The term “tangent” denotes an abrupt change of course — and that’s the transformative impact we wanted the company to have for our users. Our goal was to democratise the way organisations recruit their talent.
We offer tech job seekers a platform to submit video pitches to employers while giving employers access to a diverse talent pool. Using AI, our software matches jobseekers with appropriate roles and employers, bridging connections between individuals who might not have otherwise met.
For example, one of our clients, the fintech company GoCardless, hired a first-generation immigrant from a low-income background who had been unemployed for some time. Thanks to our “smart-matched” video, GoCardless was able to see the individual’s potential in a way they couldn’t have otherwise. By hearing their experiences and seeing their enthusiasm, the candidate stood out and secured the job.
Last year, a brilliant Harvard study by Raj Chetty and colleagues on “economic connectedness” highlighted that individuals often mirror the success of their peers. Those from privileged backgrounds link others to vital networks and opportunities. To enhance social mobility, we need to build new systems and structures and harness technology across socioeconomic lines.
Digital upskilling is one of the most effective ways to boost the retention and engagement of diverse and underrepresented employees, while equipping your business with the agility it needs in a tech-led world. Yet, research by Thomson Reuters revealed that half of U.K. and U.S. employees have had no digital skills training from their employers in the past two years.
It always amazed me how few organisations invested in training their employees on the latest technologies, which is why I started Upskill Digital in 2015. I wanted to transform workplace learning and provide a scalable solution to help close the digital skills gap across the world and boost people’s confidence in using technology.
Everywhere I looked, reports highlighted the gravity of the skills gap and its impact on employees — especially within marginalised communities, where access to education and training is limited. From the start, we doubled down on supporting those communities because that’s where we could offer the greatest value.
Some of the most sought-after skills in today’s world are in tech, such as data storytelling, agile project management, and cloud engineering. Businesses need to prioritise such areas to stay relevant, but when there is pressure to fill roles, diversity goals can be impacted.
Today, Upskill Digital has helped more than 630,000 people across 34 countries. Through our learning platform and extensive network of trainers, we deliver a unique learning experience tailored to specific roles and levels. Our approach focuses on learner-centric designs, adaptive assessments, 1:1 mentor-matching, and personalised learning journeys.
Ultimately, closing the DEI gap in tech goes beyond the numbers and requires an unwavering commitment from leadership, a willingness to be an industry pioneer, and dedicated funding to upskill and create a more equitable and inclusive workplace. It’s not just a moral imperative; it’s also a strategic advantage that can lead to greater innovation, employee satisfaction, and business success.
Addressing inequalities in tech startups
Innovative startups like Earlybird, Tangent, and Upskill Digital are key drivers of DEI in the tech sector. But inequalities in the startup ecosystem remain, especially when it comes to funding.
To empower the next generation of founders, the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund provides hands-on support and vital financial backing — without equity in return — to help businesses navigate every stage of their startup journey, while creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive world.
Interested in applying for Google’s Black Founders Fund: Europe? Find out more here.