The last few years have seen much talk about equality. “Me Too” and “Black Lives Matter” are known to everyone. But the World is a long way from true diversity. Shockingly, even the EU is 60 years away from male-female equality, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). In 2020, McKinsey and Company issued a report showing that companies with diverse executives considerably outperformed their competitors. This built on its 2015 report stating that advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth. Yet COVID-19 adversely impacted females more than males, and the poor more than the rich. The latter has ethnic equality implications and the former reverses some of the slow progress made over the last century.
Many tech businesses face a very real challenge in recruiting and retaining innovative and talented people essential for growth in today’s global economy. This talent is not male, nor is it female, not black or white, not neuro-diverse or neuro-typical. It is all these people. If significant elements of society are excluded, then scarce talent is being lost to businesses and organizations. That exclusion is not normally deliberate. Most nations’ laws would prohibit this, but realities can be different, undermining well-intended organizational values and policies. Place yourself in the shoes of someone young looking for work and being called for interview at a company office. If you are talented, would you choose to work somewhere you would feel out of place, where you do not see appropriate role models in senior management?
Is this something for the geospatial industry to worry about? Yes, absolutely. Ask yourself about your own organization. Are males and females equally represented at all levels and in all aspects of the business? Is the workforce representative of the society the business operates in, including its customers? Is your Board diverse, including the young who represent the ideas of a different generation? Does your recruitment process still seek candidates that “fit into the team”, or is it, like Microsoft, as fair to neuro-diverse individuals as to the neuro-typical?
We know that ‘Geography’ attracts from many quarters; anecdotally around 40% of GIS students are female, whereas the EIGE study makes clear that only one in five engineering, computer science and technology students is female. Geospatial knowledge helps solve the very global problems that attract geographers, from the environment to sustainable development. The geospatial industry should therefore be attractive to the best talent.
Our geospatial industry faces a challenge; geospatial innovation is increasingly led by the wider tech industry, where ‘geospatial’ is only one facet of a business model in today’s knowledge economy. That same tech industry is recognizing that the current talent pool is almost empty, so it is actively broadening its search across wider society to fill existing gaps. As importantly, they recognise the business edge gained from people from different backgrounds with diverse ideas and thought processes, challenging conventional thinking and bringing innovation.
It is not just about recruitment. McKinsey showed that in the USA, women continued to lose ground in moving up the ladder, and thus losing pay. As a result, women remain significantly outnumbered in entry-level management, holding just 38% of manager-level positions. At C-level, it is disappointingly only 21%. It appears that, after years of letting nature take its course, hurdles remain.
There is a growing argument for positive action to hasten equality and to force ourselves to benefit from the talent that is all around us. Arguments against positive action often centre on (misrepresenting) unfairness on the majority and suggesting that there are not enough under-represented people available to recruit or promote. But no one can argue that another 60 years to achieve parity in Europe is fair, acceptable or good for business. If Covid-19 has taught us one thing, it is that taking positive action for “the greater good” is acceptable and achievable.
So, my green shoots thought is simply this. The geospatial industry in 2021 should take a lead in inclusion and diversity and actively find, not seek, talent from all quarters. It is not just morally right but we need top talent and innovative minds so that our geospatial businesses can compete with the wider tech sector that is now leading geospatial thinking. By collaborating in this endeavour to grow the talent pool, we benefit the geospatial industry at large. And, as providers of social good, the geospatial industry can be attractive if we truly reach out.
Now, in 2021, we can use the inevitable post-pandemic restructuring to make conscious decisions on the targets we will set and the positive actions we will instigate to attract, promote and benefit from the talent that sits across all parts of society.