Overcoming the opportunity gap to improve diversity in tech

The technology industry is growing at a rapid rate and recruiting skilled individuals to fill positions is increasingly difficult. There is a significant challenge in the fact that many prestigious organisations have a legacy of fishing from a limited pool of talent. This is because, although talent can be found in all walks of life, the traditional route to “elite” careers involves a combination of influence and opportunity that is rarely available to young people from under-resourced or under-represented backgrounds. At The Elephant Group, we believe that the third sector can help with this problem: social equity organisations have the potential to connect businesses committed to diversity with highly engaged, capable people who should be in their talent pipeline.

The problem with diversity in tech 

The technology industry is renowned for innovation and rapid responses to ever-changing and ever-growing demands. However, one thing that it seems unable to resolve is the struggle to access diverse talent via traditional recruitment pipelines.

The Tech Talent Charter identifies that:

  • 9% of tech employees herald from lower socio-economic backgrounds;
  • 29% of UK tech employees are women or non-binary;
  • 25% UK tech employees are from minority ethnic groups – and 5% Black.

At the same time as it faces criticism over lack of diversity, the technology industry is facing a talent gap. According to Nashsquared, 70% of digital leaders say that a shortage of skills is preventing them from keeping up with the pace of change. And although tech giants such as IBM and BT are looking to replace some jobs with AI, a significant number of new roles will arise as a result. If we want to avoid yet more systemic inequalities, it is essential that under-represented groups – including women – are represented in the AI industry. Earlier this year, Harriet Harman asserted that we urgently need an AI workforce strategy if we are going to see successful levelling up in the industry.

Education and industry need to work together on tech skills

While pledges are being made to improve equality and diversity, doing so via the recruitment process alone is not enough. To address these problems, it is necessary for the technology and education sectors to work together to widen the pipeline to tech so that employers are able to access diverse pools of capable talent, rather than trying to meet diversity targets from a cohort that fails to represent society. By broadening the pipeline and closing the opportunity gap, it may be possible to realise diversity in workforces, as well as equality of opportunity once employees are in position. 

True diversity and equality in tech won’t just see an increase of under-resourced and under-represented groups getting into the tech industry; it will see an increase of capable employees from under-resourced and under-represented groups succeeding in the tech industry.

In its 10-point plan to boost workforce skills and address the ever-growing skills gaps, the People and Work report from the British Chambers of Commerce highlights the need for investment in making careers information, education and guidance a mainstream priority for school leaders. The Chambers go further with the Youth Skills Manifesto which, amongst other things, recommends that every school, college and university across the UK has a full-time resource for careers. 

Challenges of the pipeline: unfair advantage

The ideal is undoubtedly a great solution, but in times of increasing economic pressure on the education sector it may seem to be unrealistic. The reality may well be that the better-off state schools and well-funded independent schools continue to invest heavily in careers guidance and advice, while their under-resourced counterparts continue to struggle with the daily challenges of catering for a diverse group of individuals, many of whom have specific, location or demographic-based needs. The result? The more privileged are likely to gain ground, leaving the less privileged further behind than before. 

5 factors that influence young people’s career choices

What leads us to pursue a particular career varies for each individual. However, and in no particular order, there are generally five key factors:

  1. Awareness of the opportunities available - Young people can only aspire to career paths to which they have exposure. From famous footballers to teachers to web developers, if they haven’t heard of a job role, they won’t be able to consider their fit for it.
  2. Access to relatable role models – In order to want to be it, people have to see it. If the perception of people in tech is rich, white men from private schools, then a girl in a state school is unlikely to realise that a career in tech is possible for her, regardless of her abilities.
  3. Understanding the pathway – Knowing what they might want to be is not enough; young people need guidance to help them to navigate the pathway from aspiration to achieving their goals, particularly for careers such as tech where there are myriad different pathways to choose from. 
  4. Work experienceHugely valuable for both the employer and potential employee, work experience still tends to be a case of who you know, and not what you know.
  5. A feeling of belonging – The factors above contribute to a feeling of belonging that helps to nurture aspirations and makes the transition from aspiration to achievement much smoother. This sense of belonging inevitably results in aiming higher and increased knowledge, skills and confidence during selection processes, and increased motivation.

Industry collaboration is the key to change

So, how can organisations work to address these steps and, in doing so, inspire and equip young people from diverse backgrounds to consider a career in technology? 

With an emphasis on “you have to see it to be it”, we believe that partnerships provide a valuable pathway to connecting diverse talent to potential career paths. Without leveraging personal and familial connections – the traditional vectors of success in many spheres – partnerships allow students from non-selective state schools to gain an insight into the array of opportunities available within the technology industry. These partnerships provide young people with real-life, relatable role models and experiences, informing them of the different pathways that they can take to achieve their goals, and supporting them in following their chosen paths. Most importantly, partnerships support the aim of nurturing a feeling of belonging for underrepresented young people in elite professions and university courses. By leveraging the power and connections from third sector organisations, businesses can make sure that they get the right opportunities to the right people – from all walks of life.

Case study: working with Palantir UK to inspire opportunity 

An example of how this might be achieved is demonstrated through our work with Palantir UK. As a corporate partner, Palantir has attended Elephant Access Launch Events, meeting hundreds of programme participants from low socio-economic and low participation areas. We took 31 young people to Palantir HQ for an immersive digital skills day where they were guided by Palantir and PwC representatives through a range of workshops. The words of one of the participants, Sarah, encapsulate the inspirational energy of the event:

“I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Digital Skills Day at Palantir Technologies organised by The Elephant Group and I am overflowing with gratitude for the experience. The day was filled with insights into the world of data analytics and what life at Palantir is like. The session on CV and personal branding provided practical tips and strategies to enhance our professional profiles. I learned how to craft a compelling CV and present myself in a way that showcases my skills and accomplishments.

One of the highlights of the day was the data analyst task, where we worked with AI and LLM technology to tackle a challenging problem, and presented our findings and ideas to the group. It was inspiring to see the power of technology in action and how it can be harnessed to solve complex problems. I was deeply impressed by the innovative work being done there. The office buzzed with creativity and intellect, and I am grateful for the opportunity to witness it firsthand.”

Sarahprogramme participant


Our work with Palantir Technologies is just one example of how partnerships between industry specialists and the third sector can transform opportunities for young people today, and workforce diversity and inclusion tomorrow.  We intend to continue to build on the success of this event with follow-up digital skills days and additional work focusing on Girls in Tech. 

“Working with The Elephant Group has always been one of the greatest pleasures of my professional career, so being able to welcome more than 30 students for an insight day into working in tech at Palantir UK HQ is a real highlight. 

“The partnership that Palantir has with The Elephant Group is something I’m so proud of, and being able to give these students access to information and opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have is so important. I’m really looking forward to hosting more of these events in the future at Palantir UK HQ and seeing what further value we can add.”

Claire Luzmore, Delivery Enablement, Palantir Technologies

From creating a diverse workforce to filling niche roles and meeting ever-increasing and ever-changing demands, tech organisations need to be imaginative and agile when forming a strategy that will allow them to successfully navigate the ever-changing landscape.  At The Elephant Group, we believe that addressing the opportunity gap instead of the talent gap will form a valuable part of this strategy. 

The Elephant Group is just one of several social equity charities that is ideally placed to act as the conduit between organisations and schools. If you would like to find out more about what partnering with us could look like, please email team@theelephantgroup.org

This has been a guest blog for the Tech Talent Charter by The Elephant Group.