Bristol’s burgeoning technology sector is being held back by a lack of ethnic and gender diversity among its workforce, the city’s deputy mayor told an audience at a major city law firm.
Councillor Asher Craig was among the speakers at the ‘Digital Diversity’ panel event held at the offices of international legal practice, Osborne Clarke.
Also speaking were Julian Hemming, chair of the international employment law group at Osborne Clarke; Monika Radclyffe, centre director of the Bristol SETsquared tech start-up incubator; Dr. Zainab Khan, leader for continuous enhancement at the University of the West of England; and Patrick Philpott, founder and managing director of VisionPath, a social enterprise which has worked with over 5,000 young people to improve their employability skills.
Craig paid tribute to the role played by tech firms in creating a strong and dynamic local economy – but said that a sector which prides itself on its “disruptive” potential needs to “disrupt” itself by becoming more diverse, thereby stimulating even more growth.
He said: “The digital sector has been a great success story in this city, but to the city’s tech firms I say: ‘Lack of diversity is holding you back because you should reflect the diversity of your community and your potential customer base.’
“Brexit and tightening immigration rules are coming, so tech companies need to draw on all sections of the workforce. Homegrown talent is needed to bridge the gap and Bristol is full of untapped potential.”
Julian Hemming told the audience that improving diversity at Osborne Clarke is a key objective which is being driven by the firm’s managing partner, Ray Berg.
Hemming said: “The challenge for us as a law firm is to improve our diversity and this is a big work in progress. We are making strides in terms of gender diversity and we are looking to do more in other areas.”
Monika Radclyffe said that businesses need to be careful of their own unconscious bias. For example, at SETsquared some of the entrepreneurs are in their 60s, whereas a wrongly held perception is that digital business is only for younger people. She said there were opportunities for people of all ages to learn new skills.