Can the tech industry help bridging the wealth gap and foster social mobility?
This is something that has been bubbling in my mind recently. Over the years, I have found myself working in a variety of tech environments, from small tech startups in Silicon Valley to huge corporate tech giants in London. Regardless of the fact that 20% of businesses fail in their first year and around 60% will go bust within their first three years (Fundsquire) and that corporate tech giants often come under scrutiny for other unflattering reasons, it's undeniable that the tech industry holds both a progressive approach to work and a hell lot of wealth that can be transformative for the lives of many. Which brought me to this first question - can tech become the next 'force for good' to address the intrinsic lack of social mobility and financial disparity in the UK and many other countries?
It's not a secret that tech jobs in London (and in any other large city) pay well above the UK national average - especially when it comes to large corporations (however, the startup space shouldn't be disregarded either!). As the daughter of a (wonderful and incredibly loved) high school teacher and a very appreciated local travel agent of a small Italian city, when I first started learning about the wealth that could be accessed through tech roles in London I was well into my twenties and could barely believe my eyes. And the reality is, I wouldn't even have known about it if it wasn't for an old manager who (thank goodness!) told me I could actually access those roles myself. At the time I was working in media and self-doubt had taken over my whole self, so the idea of even being considered for such roles was unthinkable despite having a great professional track record. Regardless of my determination and hard work throughout the years, that was a whole new world of wealth that felt so unreachable for someone like me at the time.
Having grown up in a small Italian city without direct contact to business best practices, coaching, technology or family connections in this high-paying industry, learning what was actually attainable came as a complete revelation - and shock. Whilst the concept of mentorship is now becoming more widespread across many industries, at the time I had no real contacts nor understanding on how to access such 'exclusive' world. So thank you old manager for opening my eyes!
Which takes me to the second point of this article. How can people with no family connections, exposure to business and knowledge in the field actually access these incredible opportunities that can be life-changing? Tech is no longer just for engineers and developers. Many jobs in tech mainly require soft, transferrable skills that can be learnt.
In fact, there are a wealth of roles that do not require any formal education or coding skills but rather focus on people's willingness to learn and attitude to growth. Curiosity and determination are becoming as powerful as formal education. However, as Erzsebet Bukodi eloquently stated in this article - "For education to promote mobility at a societal level, the association between a person’s class origins and their educational attainment must weaken, while the association between their educational attainment and their class destinations must strengthen". Meaning it's important to recognise someone's ability to do something based on results, rather than on the type of education they received i.e. Harvard Degree v. self-taught YouTube, EdX, Coursera.
Education is a powerful ‘equalizer’ of chances.
Therefore, given the root of the wealth gap is very much connected to the lack of education and awareness around the opportunities people can get access to (Science Daily), can tech jobs become one key solution to help bridge the social gap and promote social mobility?
Whilst somehow expected, the clear success story in the Nordics is a true inspiration. I would love to explore whether there is any correlation (or causation, even) between the penetration of tech companies (and their recruitment practices) in the region and their success with social mobility. If you have any relevant sources, I would love to hear from you!. "Denmark holds the title for the most socially mobile country in the world, boasting an index score of 85.2. If a person is born into a low-income family in Denmark, the WEF estimates it would take two generations to reach a median income. In contrast, someone in Brazil or South Africa would take nine generations at the current pace of growth".
Assuming more people from all different social backgrounds were aware of the opportunities that the tech industry offers, and the ways to get in (which in many cases don't require any formal education and instead welcome alternative routes that prove people's knowledge and ability), then diversity would really begin to thrive organically. Research shows that diversity drives innovation (Forbes). Technology is innovation by definition. So surely it is in the interest of all tech companies to widen the scope of their recruitment to ensure awareness and education about certain opportunities reach every level of society. Diversity, curiosity, resourcefulness - these are the key ingredients I see fuelling innovation in the tech industry.
Over the last year, there has been an increasing awareness around the fact that the lack of opportunities tend to affect specific groups more than others. It all comes down to the opportunities people are given to grow out of the environment they were initially born into so they can make an actual choice. "Social inequality exists because the lack of wealth in certain areas prohibits these people from obtaining the same housing, health care, etc." (Science Daily), meaning that wealth is very much at the centre of the issue that concerns social mobility. To add to that, racial inequality and gender inequality are also huge contributors to the lack of social mobility - in some countries more than others.
However, I really see wealth inequality as the primary cause of slow social mobility (or lack of thereof altogether). Wealth generally comes alongside education, opportunities, a support system and awareness about what is possible.
How can we as a society, as people working in the technology sector - whether in tech roles or not - make a difference through raising awareness so everyone knows that tech (and the wealth that comes with it) is also for them?
There is no doubt this is an incredibly complex topic with many interconnected layers. In "The success paradox – Why we need a holistic theory of social mobility", Atherton explores a new holistic approach to social mobility that encompasses education, the economy and politics. He also evaluates the relationship with employers, "embracing radical opportunities provided by technology and rethinking what higher education means" - which is ultimately one of the points of this personal reflection.
The impact that any given individual can have on others within their social circle can be huge. As part of my effort to raise awareness around the routes into tech, I recently created an Instagram account (@CarlottaConnects) which shares useful tech insights & tips, as well as interviews with people from within the tech industry. However, there are many other initiatives I'm involved with that other people can also partake in to help make technology a more accessible industry for others:
- Cooperating with career-development organisations, like School16, which provide career acceleration workshops and trainings to anyone willing to get into non-tech roles in tech companies;
- Creating connections with local high schools and colleges to share your own experience and recommendations with students to help them with inspiration, motivation, guidance and self-belief;
- Mentoring junior professionals and career-changers through the sharing of your own experiences and industry contacts;
- Volunteering for relevant non-profits e.g. TechSheCan and/or at relevant initiatives like Technovation.
There is so much current tech companies and employees can do to raise awareness and help bridge the wealth gap - regardless of the tech field. We might not be able to change things overnight, but we can "be the change we wish to see in the world" (Mahatma Gandhi) thanks to small actions that can raise awareness.
I hope these few words inspired you to take action - and to make an impact within your most immediate circle to begin with. And if you're interested in cooperating through sharing your story and insights on @CarlottaConnects, please feel free to get in touch.