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Sheree Atcheson: How we can shape the workforce of the future and why diversity matters

Ambassador Sheree Atcheson

Technology is an omnipresent force in many of our lives. So how important is it that those who keep its wheel turning are reflective of us? 

Vital, if we want technology to offer solutions that work for all, says one woman who has made a career encouraging the industry to take diversity seriously. 

Global Ambassador at Women Who Code, Sheree Atcheson is keen to talk about exactly what diversity means to her. 

The 28-year-old, who has been listed as one of the UK’s Top Most Influential Women in Tech, has also recently taken on a role as Monzo’s first-ever head of Diversity and Inclusion. 

As she takes on her new role, we asked her to explain just what diversity means to her, and how she thinks it should shape the workforce: 

How do you define diversity? 

By dictionary definition, it means "a range of things". 

In business, I define a diverse workforce as a workforce that is not homogenous and that is reflective of society. Society is not formed of only one or two groups of people, but rather many and having a business which is reflective of that is having a diverse workforce.

How diverse do you think the tech industry is at present? 

The tech industry has a long way to go. It's making progress but we must do more. 

According to Tech Nations' '19 report, only 19 per cent of tech workforce are women and in '18, they reported 15 per cent of the digital tech workforce in the UK are from black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds, compared to 13 per cent of the wider UK workforce, with black people being the most underrepresented. 

Systemic barriers must be addressed in understanding the entry point, the progression routes, and the ability to stay in work in tech, whilst being from an underrepresented group. 

Likewise, the nuances between different genders and ethnicities must be acknowledged, alongside the intersectional view of what it means to, for example, be a woman of colour in this industry versus a white woman.

Work must also be done to ensure those from different socio-economic backgrounds, the LGBT+ community, disabled people, those who are neurodiverse, working parents etc can all find, keep and thrive in technology. 

As these voices are very much wanted and needed.

What is it doing well in terms of diversity and where is there room for improvement? 

Gender inclusion has been prioritised and has made headway, which we can see in now having mandatory gender pay gap reporting. 

Many organisations have Inclusion strategies entirely hooked on gender diversity because women are 50 per cent of society and making an impact there will be substantial.  

However, if organisations continue to focus on gender inclusion only, without understanding the intersectional view of women from different backgrounds, then the only people benefiting from this work will be able-bodied straight white women. 

And that isn't good enough. 

How would you define a company that has successfully achieved diversity within the workplace? 

This is difficult as this is different per workplace. 

Ideally, achieving diversity in the workplace would mean an employee base which is reflective of society, provides an equitable environment for those from underrepresented groups to grow, develop and progress whilst also sharing successes and lessons learned in this space to help change societal thinking, outside of the organisation. 

Why is it important to have diversity within the technology industry? 

Because technology doesn't have one type of user. 

Applications and software solutions are used by almost all of us and if we do not prioritise inclusive design, development or testing, then we cannot be sure the solution will work for society.

Different perspectives bring different insights and that is exactly what the tech industry needs - different viewpoints on the same problem and solution.

How can you ensure diversity is truly achieved and not just a token gesture through arbitrary quotas? 

Understanding your data and listening to your people. Are you implementing hiring quotas, however seeing attrition of underrepresented groups increasing? 

Are you seeing that there is an unbalanced percentage of people being promoted/progressed from majority demographics? 

What feedback are you getting in exit interviews and are you actioning that? When you have implemented quotas, are you still challenging yourself enough to widen your view of how success "looks and behaves" to therefore hire people not like you in many ways, versus just one?

Asking yourself these questions means you can drill down into the deeper issues in an organisation. 

Quotas are not useful if they're not backed up with data-driven, strategic and focused initiatives to support those from different groups into your organisation. 

Bringing people in the door and providing no support when they start isn't going to work on it's own.



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