The Race to Representation in Leeds Tech: How You Can Help the City Lead in Digital Diversity

If you haven’t encountered them already, allow us to introduce you to trailblazers of inclusion in the Leeds tech scene, WILD – a community led initiative, focussed on creating and highlighting activity that encourages minority groups to consider careers in digital. 

Born out of a frustration with the continued underrepresentation of women within tech – who make up just 17% of the UK’s digital workforce – WILD founders Sarah Tulip and Deb Hetherington set out to address the inequalities within the sector. As WILD Digital, Sarah (Head of Digital Transformation at BJSS) and Deb (Head of Innovation at Bruntwood SciTech) build and support groups, communities and networks that empower people working within digital and aim to create a more diverse, inclusive sector.

“When I took my first digital board-level role, I looked around and there were no women within my network, and just not enough women coming through. Starting WILD with Deb was an opportunity to make real change within Leeds – to create a community where we find people like ourselves and build a truly more diverse and successful ecosystem”

Sarah Tulip, Co-founder of WILD

Since setting up the organisation back in 2018, WILD has curated numerous events to bring together the tech community, including their Women in Leeds Digital conference. The conference, which formed part of the 2019 Leeds Digital Festival, was organised in partnership with Nexus and welcomed over 500 delegates from the Northern tech community, featuring contributions from the likes of Zandra Moore (CEO & Co-Founder, Panintelligence), Anna Sutton (CEO & Co-Founder, The Data Shed) and Jem Henderson (former Entrepreneur Engagement Manager, Tech Nation). In 2020, WILD’s reach continued to grow, with over 1000 delegates and 50 tech companies in attendance at their virtual conference. 

In hosting these events, Deb and Sarah quickly realised that their attendees came from an incredibly broad range of backgrounds, had equally varied reasons for supporting the WILD mission, and all felt that the existing tech sector within Leeds failed to represent them. Having outgrown its first incarnation as “Women in Leeds Digital” – which primarily focussed on females working in tech within Leeds – WILD’s evolution into “Working Inclusively, Leading Digitally” allows them to support the many minority voices within the tech space and push for full spectrum diversity, in both Leeds and the wider North.

WILD’s most recent endeavour, The Racial Diversity in Digital Project, will see the team lean into this new direction even further, partnering with Leeds City Council and Manchester-based Diverse and Equal to conduct research into the experiences of ethnic minorities working within the tech space. The findings of this research will inform a manifesto for change within the city, and hopefully help to establish a new precedent for diversity in tech across the whole of the UK. 

“We’re excited to be leading this work on behalf of WILD for the city of Leeds. Innovation from tech touches every part of our lives – from how we communicate to how we shop, and everything in between. This research demonstrates the city’s commitment to equality. The insights will feed into Leeds becoming a diverse, innovative and productive centre of tech excellence for the future.”

Annette Joseph, Founder of Diverse and Equal

The project, which has been commissioned by WILD in association with some of Leeds’ most influential tech partners – including The University of Leeds, Bruntwood SciTech, BJSS, Crisp, TPP, and Sky Betting & Gaming – will help to paint a realistic picture of the city’s tech sector, identify the problems minority groups face within it, and open up a discussion about how it can become a more representative and inclusive place.

“We need to talk about race, especially in the digital sector, where we are often setting the pace for innovation. Conversations about race are happening and we are starting to see change in pockets, but it is a topic that still often makes people uncomfortable and worry about getting it right.”

Sarah Tulip, Co-founder of WILD

Currently, minority ethnic groups constitute only 18% of the digital workforce in the UK, and uncovering the lived realities of people of colour across the Leeds Digital and Tech sector is a crucial first step to understanding the scope of the problem, and creating considered objectives that allow for real and impactful change. But this can only be achieved by opening up a discussion – something that The Racial Diversity in Digital Project hopes to facilitate. 

By making this conversation clear and accessible for everyone, WILD hopes to use the research as a starting point for effecting real change and opening up the Leeds tech sector to the inherent benefits diversity can bring. 

Aside from allowing for greater innovation and creativity – that result from the varied experiences and backgrounds feeding into the discussion – Chief Officer for Culture and Economy, Eve Roodhouse adds that having a full spectrum of diversity and inclusion within the sector will also lead to increased profitability. This has been further evidenced by recent McKinsey research showing a 35% increase in profit for organisations that are ethnically diverse and inclusive. 

Yet despite the strong business case for ethnic diversity in the workplace, the report suggests that uptake from organisations across the UK remains slow. The Racial Diversity in Digital Project hopes to identify the reasons behind this, and use its findings to help to build an environment that harnesses the full potential of the Leeds tech sector, to the benefit of organisations and individuals across the city.

“Leeds is aiming to build a digital sector that can compete on the world stage. In order to do this, the sector needs to be diverse from the ground up and this research will ensure we have the information to target our provision and planning effectively.”

Eve Roodhouse, Chief Officer Culture and Economy, Leeds City Council

As part of this research, the project is calling on everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, working or looking to work in the Leeds Digital and Tech Sector to take part in the Racial Diversity in Digital – Leeds survey. The survey – which will be available to complete until the end of August – takes just 5 minutes to fill out but will help WILD and the organisations spearheading the research to paint a realistic picture of the sector, and what problems must be addressed in order to build a better future for Leeds Digital. 

Follow-up interviews will also be conducted with those candidates happy to detail their experiences further, and the research findings will be presented for the first time at Leeds Digital Festival this September. The event will open up a dialogue on what the main barriers to representation within tech are, what needs to be achieved, and how the city of Leeds can lead in the creation of an ethnically diverse digital and tech sector. 

Play your part in bettering representation within the Digital Sector by filling in the survey here – regardless of your ethnicity, WILD want to hear about your experiences working in Leeds tech.

For more information on The Racial Diversity in Digital Project head to the WILD website, or follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn. More details on their contributions to this year’s Leeds Digital Festival – including a Female First networking event – will be available once the full programme is announced on the 31st August.

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