Pioneering scheme launched to widen diversity in West of England’s tech sector

A programme to tackle the lack of diversity in Bristol and Bath’s tech cluster by amplifying its underrepresented voices has been launched.

Aptly named SHIFT, the free course will give 12 individuals from diverse backgrounds across the region the skills and backing they need to change perceptions in the area’s burgeoning tech industry. 

Those behind SHIFT hope they will then go on to become the region’s next tech conference speakers, board members and mentors – bringing new insights, inspiring others and ultimately making the cluster a magnet for new talent.

As well as an in-depth speaking and confidence course, the programme aims to connect participants with key figures within the region’s thriving tech community at invite-only events – which comes with exclusive access to speaking opportunities, invites to conferences, judging panels and more.

SHIFT is backed by Bristol tech hub Engine Shed, UWE and specialist recruitment agency Thatchers and supported by community partners across the region including Bristol Media, Creative Bath, South West Founders, Women’s Tech Hub, and High Tech Bristol & Bath.

TechSPARK, the digital tech network for the South West, has designed the programme, which will start next month.

While the West of England’s digital tech cluster is the area’s fastest-growing, employing around 36,000 people and contributing more than £1.5bn to the local economy, it does not represent the wider community.

Women make up just 16% of the tech workforce while BME talent is also severely underrepresented.

The damage this is doing is illustrated by research from McKinsey, which shows that the most diverse companies outperforming the average by 33%.TechSPARK managing director Ben Shorrock said: “With various studies citing the positive impact of diversity on the economy, the programme aims to support the region’s digital tech cluster.”  

This view is shared by Marina Traversari, the programme manager at Oracle’s Startup Cloud Accelerator (OSCA) in Bristol.

Marina, pictured above, said: “Diversity within the tech industry is a valuable commodity as it helps produce new ways of thinking and operating, including boosting productivity, profitability as well as making companies standout.

“Here at OSCA, we’re proud to create an environment that empowers people and companies to be the best they can be. For us, programmes like SHIFT help us to connect and support a broad and diverse range of entrepreneurs and investors.

“As the tech sector itself becomes more diverse, there will be more and more role models for young men and women to aspire to”

One Bristol tech business already addressing the diversity agenda is Gapsquare, which has created self-use software that allows companies to go into in-depth analysis of their gender pay gap with the aim of genuinely reducing the gap and creating an actual culture change within an organisation. 

Founder and chief executive Dr Zara Nanu, pictured right, said: “The lack of diversity at events, senior roles and boardrooms merely shows one part of underrepresentation in the tech sector. 

“There are so many talented unrepresented voices in the industry who have the potential to make the Bristol & Bath’s tech sector even better, so we’re really happy to support SHIFT to celebrate diverse voices in our region.”

Applications to take part in the first SHIFT programme opened yesterday to coincide with International Women’s Day and will close on April 2. For more information visit

Under represented groups in the tech sector include women, people from BME backgrounds, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities.

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