Neuroscience and D&I: Making a Real Difference

Diversity is much wider than any one aspect; it's much more than gender, or race. Diversity is a complex, intersectional, and vast issue that needs a complex, carefully curated, and extensive solution. But to start somewhere I have collated information to illustrate the current tech landscape.

In the UK specifically, 77% of tech director roles are fulfilled by men, and 23% women. In the wider economy, 71% of directors are men, and 29% are women. While tech directorship is lagging behind the rest of the economy, the tech workforce more broadly is made up of 81% men, and 19% women – meaning that tech leadership has better gender balance than those working in tech more generally (Tech Nation, 2020).

This is interesting as it’s unusual to have a better gender balance at leadership level than in general. We would expect diversity at the top to reflect elsewhere. This assumes unconscious bias is rational, when in fact it often acts in direct opposition to conscious beliefs held. And sometimes it acts serves be more critical of people who are similar to you (e.g. Queen Bee Syndrome). This is why we have to go further to unconscious bias training alone and we need to put transparent systems and structures in place to challenge negative AND positive assumptions held based on identity and ensure fairness and objectivity.

When looking at nationality, tech directorships are composed 18% of people with a non-British nationality, compared to 13% in the wider economy. This is higher than the proportion of non-UK nationals working in the tech sector – which is 15% compared to 10% across the whole of the UK economy (Tech Nation, 2020).

This lack of diversity is troubling, because many businesses look at D&I purely from a social justice perspective but are failing to see the actual business case for diversity in the workplace. Amongst many other benefits, three key stats that illustrate the importance of diversity are:

  • Diverse teams solve problems 60% faster and are 83% more innovative (Harvard Business Review, Deloitte, People Management)
  • 54% of women and 45% of men research a company’s D&I policy before accepting an offer. (PWC)
  • Diverse companies are 25% more likely to see above average profitability (McKinsey & Co.)

Barriers to this include the myth of meritocratic compromise for diversity, enforced quotas leading to “minority privilege” and “token hiring” as well as a negative attitude cultivated from the threat factor perceived by our amygdala, unconscious bias, and neglect of consideration for inclusivity. These are all covered within the free Neuroscience & D&I In Tech whitepaper which you can request from me by dropping me a message on LinkedIn or via email at

The Brain & Unconscious Bias

The brain uses a lot of energy and largely relies on shortcuts (assumptions) and the reticular activating system (filtering) to respond to relevant stimuli in the environment. For example, your reticular activating system (RAS) filters out your nose from your vision despite being able to see it all the time, and your brain constantly makes shortcuts between shapes and words, or sounds and speech.

This is necessary and useful... until it isn't.

This is where unconscious bias ties in, which is made up of shortcuts your brain makes without you consciously being aware of it. Unconscious biases are usually built upon social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everybody has unconscious bias, which is why people will often embark upon unconscious bias training in order to raise their own awareness of their bias. This awareness is important but it's only the first step. Unconscious bias training alone is unhelpful, and needs to be accompanied by wider education, coaching, or training.

To truly make a difference and make a change we need to use stats and stories, to elicit emotional and logical responses.

Diversity and Inclusion can be a difficult topic to address, and the common issue is knowing where to start on that journey as a business and how to improve D&I naturally to make real change. Diversity doesn't have to be scary, but it is complex, so what better place to start than our own behaviour and the driving force behind that... the brain!

Contact me for the full whitepaper which covers the key challenges and considerations for businesses, as well as next steps which considers behaviour, so you are equipped to turn intentions into actions and make real, permanent change for D&I in your business.

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