Diversity and Microsoft Azure: Could a better understanding of inclusivity help solve the cloud skills gap?

What started as a whisper behind closed doors has escalated into a full-scale roar. The skills gap engulfing the digital workforce has gathered pace, and more and more industry heavyweights are beginning to sense the severity of the situation.

As recently as March this year, leading research and advisory company Gartner spelled it out plainly and without ambiguity. In their 2018 Shifting Skills Survey, “80% said they lack both the skills they need both for their current role and their future career”.

Fast-forward just three short months and the picture sharpens even further. “Getting the right skills remains a near-impossibility,” wrote TechForge Media Editor in Chief James Bourne. “The skills gap shows no sign of lessening,” was his sobering forecast.

Cause for concern

Earlier this year, we took a closer look at the issues facing the cloud tech space thanks to a timely injection of old fashioned facts and figures in the shape of our 2019/20 Microsoft Azure Salary Survey – an independent study of wages, trends and, more relevantly, developments across the Microsoft Azure community.

The study swept thousands of data points over the preceding 12 month period, and demisted the view just enough to allow some rays of rationality through. What are the most desirable skills for working with Azure? How much does certification impact your salary? Is job satisfaction all that it should be?

Some of the more revealing detail, however, can be found under the heading ‘Diversity’.

Pertinently placed in a quote from our President Zoe Morris is a stat that should stop the industry in its tracks. “Just 7% of survey respondents identified as female,” she says. Let that sink in for a moment. Seven.

Microsoft's latest diversity figures reveal that women make up 19.9% of its worldwide staff

The bigger picture

But what of the wider industry? What of the big-hitters who form the foundations of the sector and whose approach to such issues could make or break the skills gap conundrum over the coming decade and beyond?

Microsoft’s latest diversity figures reveal that women make up 19.9% of its worldwide staff, and if we delve into our own Dynamics Salary Surveys from years gone by, there are signs of improvement.

Some ten years ago, female respondents to the survey clocked in at 13%, and that figure remained the same in 2010. Fast-forward to 2017, an increase to 15% pointed towards progress, and our latest study falls directly in line with Microsoft’s worldwide staffing figure of 19%.

A quick glance at Microsoft’s Diversity and Inclusion Update, which reflects on the company’s annual workforce demographic report once the data has divulged, tells us the significance of that number in relation to previous reviews.

According to the update: “The representation of women in technical roles increased nearly one-and-a-half percentage points,” over the preceding 12-months.

Zoom out by another couple of years, and that figure extends to a 3.1% increase since 2015.

“These increases in representation are important,” says Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, Microsoft’s Chief Diversity Officer, “because they are one indicator of how our work to develop ground-breaking technologies and solutions across the company is increasingly informed by a wider range of perspectives and experiences.

“These figures also represent a longer-term trend of women in technical and leadership roles at Microsoft.”

There is a suggestion that these numbers represent “signs of progress”, and that “some of the seeds planted in prior years are beginning to take root” at Microsoft, but what the report doesn’t do is break up the overarching picture on a product-by-product basis.

 

Google’s numbers follow a similar pattern, and while just over a quarter of their global tech hires (25.7%) are women, their core values were called into question both publicly and impactfully over the last 12 months after staff around the globe staged a number of walkouts in retaliation to the firm’s treatment of its female employees.

TechCrunch Senior Reporter Megan Rose Dickey’s breakdown of the future of diversity and inclusion in tech digs into the impact and outcomes (or lack of them) of those protests, and at the same time considers just some of the factors behind the above numbers.

“Despite all sincere efforts to fix these diversity and inclusion issues, it will never ultimately be fixed,” she says, “because the tech industry is a reflection of our society and all of its issues pertaining to race, gender, class, ability, age and sexual orientation.

“That fact, however, does not mean there is no hope to be had. The future of the tech industry lies in the hands of everyday tech employees, new start-up founders and investors with a fresh pair of eyes. And what’s become painfully clear is that commitment from the top is not optional.

“But to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, the industry needs to come to terms with how it got to where it is today, the ineffectiveness of one-off initiatives like hiring a head of diversity and inclusion and implementing a standalone unconscious bias training, and what it will take to get where it needs to go.”

Is it any wonder that more women aren't choosing to build a career in tech if they don't believe they're being paid fairly? - Zoe Morris, President, Nigel Frank International

Mapping a route

For a map that could potentially point industry leaders in the direction that Megan Rose Dickey alludes to, all roads lead back to our Azure Salary Survey and the diversity section.

While over half of respondents (57%) agreed that their employer had a clear diversity statement, exactly a quarter simply weren’t sure whether their company actually had one, while 12% admitted their firm didn’t have such a declaration.

But it is under the banner of equal pay that we begin to find the real meat on the bones of the issue. As Zoe Morris puts it: “There could be a number of reasons why women aren’t better represented in the Azure community, but pay disparity is a likely factor.

“When asked if they believed if their employer paid equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, 60% of male respondents said yes. Just 28% of women agreed.

“Is it any wonder that more women aren’t choosing to build a career in tech if they don’t believe they’re being paid fairly?”

Inequality in plain sight

Using the Azure Salary Survey as a snapshot of what is perceived to be a sector-wide issue, the disparities are hard to miss.

If we dig a little deeper into the subject of equal pay, the yin and the yang of it all is in plain sight. On the one hand, 58% of participants believe their employer pays men and women equally – on the other, 27% simply don’t know whether their employer is fair in this regard.

Elsewhere, on the subject of inclusion, more respondents are “not sure” whether or not their employer champions equal rights (17%) compared to those who claim that more could be done by their bosses (11%).

Of those who consider the company they work for as pro-equal rights, the views are noticeably different between men and women. Some 73% of male respondents said their firm was doing a good job on this front, while just over half of the females canvassed agreed with this sentiment (56%).

Elsewhere, more than a fifth of female respondents (22%) said their company could do more to improve their approach to equal rights while, tellingly, just 10% of men agreed.

What's become painfully clear is that commitment from the top is not optional - Megan Rose Dickey, TechCrunch Senior Reporter

Time to heed the warnings

A possible staffing crisis aside, failure to engage with, act on and influence these disparities could have widespread consequences.

In the cloud sector, those in positions of power are at a crossroads – blessed with the fortune of being at the sharp end of an industry still very much in its infancy, but blighted by an imbalance that is already threatening to undo their own ambitions.

Possessing the right skills is already paramount to a career in cloud computing, and as our Salary Survey reveals, there are signs that the female population of that skill-set are growing increasingly disenfranchised.

To echo the words of Megan Rose Dickey, fairness, inclusivity and equal opportunity should not be optional for those in positions of prevalence – those with the power to hire and fire and those charged with navigating what could be some bumpy roads ahead.

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