Why Sarah Tulip is on a mission to increase diversity in the Leeds tech sector

The techology industry needs to take a more detailed approach towards measuring racial diversity in the sector to ensure it is more representative of wider society, according to a leading tech boss.

Sarah Tulip is head of digital transformation at Leeds-based technology consultancy BJSS.
Sarah Tulip is head of digital transformation at Leeds-based technology consultancy BJSS.

Sarah Tulip, head of digital transformation at Leeds-based technology consultancy BJSS, is also co-founder of WILD Digital, formerly known as Women in Leeds Digital.

WILD Digital has teamed up with Diverse & Equal to launch a project looking at how racial diversity can be increased in the city’s tech sector.

Ms Tulip told The Yorkshire Post that data that categorises people together as BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) doesn’t provide enough information to support groups that may be underrepresented or marginalised in the sector.

Sarah Tulip is also co-founder of WILD Digital, formerly known as Women in Leeds Digital.

WILD Digital’s project will look to carry out surveys as well as interviews to gain a better understanding of how to improve diversity in the sector.

“It’s really important that it’s broken down,” Ms Tulip says. “You can’t group humans into just non-white. How do you understand communities and groups of people if you do that?”

Currently, only 2.6 per cent of UK tech board members come from ethnic minority backgrounds, according to research by Druthers.

The co-founder of WILD Digital felt it was a good time to “address the conversation around race and ethnicity” given events over the past year or so with the death of George Floyd sparking protests across the world.

Ms Tulip added: “Organisations that are more diverse and inclusive are more profitable. They create innovation, they create better products and a better life for the world.

“The sector isn’t very diverse. Our thought was that Leeds had an opportunity to come together as a city and really lead in that space and actually take some action.”

She hopes that from the study a new, more diverse set of voices that previously were not given a platform will emerge. Ms Tulip said: “One of the things that we really want to do out of the qualitative research is to actually build a list of new voices for the city – people who haven’t had the opportunity to speak on panels and have their voices heard. We want to make sure that we support that group of people and get them to be role models within the city.”

A lack of racially diverse role models is an issue in the tech sector and mirrors the situation with gender diversity.

WILD helped bring together women in tech who had previously felt like they were the only females doing the job at that level. Ms Tulip hopes the new project will have the same effect for ethnic minorities.

The lack of diversity can lead to biases being built into tech, says Ms Tulip. She points to how facial recognition in some passport systems struggle to recognise black people as an example of this.

“If technology is built by the same group of white men, it doesn’t serve everybody,” Ms Tulip added.

Recent research from McKinsey showed a 35 per cent increase in profit for organisations that are ethnically diverse and inclusive.

The danger of tech businesses taking a laissez faire approach to diversity is that it is likely to have an adverse effect on their ability to attract talent.

Ms Tulip said: “Young people now really care about these things and when they are joining an organisation they’re looking for good organisations to join. They look at it from the perspective of how they treat their people, how diverse it is and what their policies around inclusion are.

“It will begin to affect the type of people that you can hire. People will be looking for those organisations that show that they care.”

An in-depth survey

The survey to explore the experiences of people working, or looking to work in the Leeds digital and tech space was launched on July 6.

The survey is to be accompanied by a large number of qualitative in-depth interviews, run in partnership with NEXUS and Leeds University.

Key partners include Leeds City Council, Sky Betting and Gaming, TPP, BJSS, Bruntwood, SciTec, Nexus and Crisp.

Sarah Tulip said: At Leeds Digital Festival we’re going to publish the report and use it as an opportunity to play it back to the city. Then we hope that what we can do as a city is set an example for other cities.”


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