We live at a time when technology is an omnipotent and omnipresent force in all our lives. Our lives are physical and virtual – and the lines continue to blur.
No matter who we are or where we come from, we all have a digital identity that needs to be protected. The digital identity conversation needs to involve and incorporate people from all different walks of life to prevent minority groups and disadvantaged socio-economic groups from being subject to discrimination or exclusion – excluding them from the conversation means that technology cannot be designed or used in an inclusive way.
Technology companies can help shape a future where technology benefits us all. They have a responsibility to ensure that people from all backgrounds can participate in the digital world. In particular, the issue of digital identities is coming to the fore because they are the access point for online services. Authentication solutions used online to determine people’s digital identities – like biometrics – should not be exclusionary and or perpetuate inequality through racial or religious bias and technology elitism.
Technology companies also need to make sure that social mobility forms a cornerstone of the tech talent conversation and help to close the digital skills gap.
At Callsign we are working in partnership with the UK Social Mobility Awards (SOMOS) to launch the inaugural ‘Social Mobility Start-up of the Year’ award, aimed at aiding social mobility in two ways; inclusivity of those from disadvantaged social economic backgrounds in product or services development, and employment including apprenticeships, paid internships or helping to upskill through community outreach programmes. For Callsign, taking continued action in the social mobility space has been central to our values as we have embarked on our growth journey from startup to scaleup.
I strongly believe we have an obligation to do this – if we are denying those from underprivileged backgrounds the opportunity to develop the skills and qualities they need to succeed in the workplace and life more broadly, then we are stunting growth and denying future generations the successes that they deserve to achieve.
Making social mobility central to tech talent conversation
If technology is to be inclusive, then those who help build those products and services should come from a diverse range of backgrounds, to ensure their experiences and values are reflected in the technology of today and the future.
Tech Nation recently revealed that employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds only account for 19% of the UK tech sector workforce, compared to 33.3% of the nationwide population. The study also found that across the UK, opportunities in the tech sector increased by 150% from 2015-2018. The tech sector needs to do far more to attract talent, and startups can play a core role in achieving more equal opportunities for all.
Minimal representation of employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds in the tech sector also leads to lack of inclusivity when designing for segments of the population who would be using those tech products or services – and whose social mobility journey might benefit from it most. Those missing voices can mean that ideas to benefit inclusivity are not brought to the table.
There are also wider societal impacts from the tech talent conversation not making social mobility a central focus – people and organisations are also being denied the progress and creativity that comes from diversity of thought. There are many efforts aimed at supporting and championing social mobility but factors like education and low socio-economic status still hinder progress and those inequalities are deeply ingrained in our society.
Role of startups in supporting social mobility
The tech job market has an ever-increasing number of vacancies, and everyone needs digital skills to be qualified to apply for those opportunities. Startups can support social mobility as they build businesses that challenge the tech sector and in turn challenge the wider digital skills culture.
You can make a difference by getting involved in the SOMOS Awards by entering any of the three individual and nine organisational categories, such as Innovation, Start-Up of the Year, Community Programme of the Year and more. This is one of the many ways organisations can take concrete and impactful action to benefit social mobility, by walking the walk and not just talking the talk.
Social mobility will not be solved if we remain complacent and do not step up to the challenge. It also will not be solved if technology continues to be exclusionary. Something needs to change – from startups and scaleups to governments and education alike – to ensure tech is created in a way that serves everyone.