Launching the F Standards

Systems Thinking

Project F’s advocacy centres around systemic change rather than “fixing” the missing and underrepresented people. Why?

The historical underrepresentation of women and marginalised groups in tech (computing and engineering) is rooted in systemic exclusion. Six decades of exclusionary policies and practices have become ingrained in the culture of technology education and the tech workplace. These are now so “normal” that they often go unnoticed, particularly by those in the majority. As a result, it can appear that individuals from underrepresented groups are less engaged because they are perceived to have inherent deficiencies. This misconception leads even the most well-intentioned people to focus on helping members of the underrepresented groups to change themselves so that they can “fit in” to succeed.

This “fixing” doesn’t address the fundamental issue or create systemic change for future generations. To challenge the existing norms and foster a more equitable environment a systemic transformation is needed so that a diverse array of voices, experiences, and perspectives can contribute to the technological innovations that will shape our future.

The Role of Tech Capitalism

On top of the subcultural challenges of technology and the influence of the patriarchy (the social system that privileges men and reinforces traditional gender roles and expectations), there is tech capitalism.

Tech capitalism is of course necessary; it’s the invisible force that drives the lightning-speed innovation we’ve become accustomed to. Think bricks & mortar to online, memos to emails, home phones to smartphones, smart homes and virtual hotels. The readiness of venture capital enables the smartest talent of any age to create robust advancements and innovation. And that’s a good thing!

The downside is that the “grow or die” culture means success comes with inevitable growth strategies that have costs attached. Those costs are things that impact the humans who work within these organisations. To be blunt, maximising shareholder value costs the time and resources it takes to fix systemic barriers for women and underrepresented groups. Diversity equity and inclusion work slows the pace of growth.

Or does it?

The Future State & The Theory of Change

There is an enormous raft of research and empirical data that points out significant gains from having diverse teams. Greater levels of creativity and experimentation [1] are just two that you’d think would be compelling for any ambitious tech innovator. Not to mention better problem solving, increased productivity and higher financial returns [2], which are all proven to be benefits  of more diverse businesses. These returns are significant enough that one might think diversity strategy is a box any investor would want to see ticked on their term sheet to ensure value is maximised.

There is also a monumental gap between the number of tech jobs and the number of qualified candidates available to fill them [3]. In 2023, more than half of global organisations reported a shortage of tech skills that’s consistently holding them back [4].

Yes, you’ve heard all this before and you are supportive, but things seem to be stuck, despite the good intentions of many people who want to see change. So what’s getting in the way? These are the headlines:

  • The complexity of the problem
  • The knowledge required to solve it 
  • The time it takes to see results 
  • The lack of governance and discipline

We believe there are two critical components of change:

  1. The SLT/Exec as sponsors of their social legacy – the team at the top has to recognise that a social legacy is worth investing in, and that the investment must be long-term to achieve it.
  2. Making the work of DEIB and changing the systems, easier and more accessible

Project F’s Impact Model (below) sees short and long-term impacts that hinge on these two criteria being met.

Project F's Impact Model and Theory of Change
Project F’s Impact Model and Theory of Change

F Standards – DEI Markers

As you all do your part, we are taking our next step to evolve how we make the work of DEIB and changing the systems easier and more accessible by introducing F Standards to create benchmarking and clarity of the critical areas where change is required

There are nine standards, defined by an extensive body of social research collected over several decades:

  1. Hiring
  2. Policies
  3. Values
  4. Performance Management
  5. Leadership
  6. SLT/Exec Leadership
  7. Flex & Part Time
  8. Paid Parental Leave
  9. Pay Transparency

Each standard is made up of a set of ‘markers’ and has a clear definition of the baseline required to foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment. Each also features a clearly defined gold level or industry-leading standard.

While these standards have been devised around scientific markers that address the persistently problematic underrepresentation of women in technology, their adoption will also effectively remove systemic barriers for many other underrepresented groups and minorities and so should be viewed as best practice throughout an organisation.

The Last (F) Word

Equality is rarely achieved by accident. Progress has been largely down to the efforts made by women and their allies, from the suffragettes to the Civil Rights movement. We see an imperative for technology companies to boost DEI in the technology itself and that can be achieved by simply ensuring the teams building, testing, designing and leading those technologies represent all of humanity.

Consider the speed at which we’re entering the Fifth Industrial Revolution.  “Industry 5.0” will be “powered by purpose, not just profit”, says award-winning scientific futurist, Dr Catherine Ball. Sustainable development is going to be where it’s at, make no mistake. Future-focused business models will lead the change towards an aspirational circular economy that has sustainability at its core. Gender Equality is (rightly) one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (#5).

Technology has to foster gender equity, diversity and inclusion if it is to be sustainable.  

While many organisations have started to address this issue, the F Standards offer clear guidance and accountability, empowering companies to implement practical solutions to create and reap the benefits of a diverse and inclusive work environment. 

Take the next step towards improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry by adopting the F Standards in your organisation.

Contact us to learn more about Project F Standards


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Further reading

How to build a genuinely diverse and inclusive tech workforce without underestimating women’s abilities and potential.
By prioritizing Diversity and Inclusion, startups can tap into a multitude of benefits that will propel their success. Let’s explore.
Uncover the differences between traditional and progressive HR and how the latter is essential to build diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, especially on the verge of the fifth revolution.