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What Engineers and Companies Can Do to Increase Social Impact

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Engineers working in the tech industry have the means to create social impact through their network, skills, and experience. Companies can create an impact by making their business practices socially-minded. Inclusive training considers the circumstances and backgrounds of individuals, offering services with minimum entry barriers to ensure broad participation, including ethnicity, gender, neurodiversity, and socio-economic background.

Germán Bencci spoke about socially responsible companies at QCon London 2023.

Bencci mentioned that, in most cases, social impact is not what companies think they could be doing. Companies think about a small charity donation, one volunteering day, a talk at a school. There is nothing wrong with that, Bencci said, but companies could be creating much more impact by concentrating on making their business practices socially-minded:

I’m thinking about their recruitment practices, their diversity stats, their equipment and services, and their profit pledges, creating the closest alignment between impact and the business.

To create social impact, Bencci suggested that engineers and their companies should create the best product they can, be as profitable as they can, but consider carefully the means by which the product is being created and how they can create a tight link between business success and impact:

As an engineer, you have at least three resources available: skills, experience, and network. You can make use of the first to create products with social impact, through hiring, mentorship, and usage of ethical services. The network can be used to encourage businesses to pledge a percentage of the profit to social impact work.

Engineers can influence and advise their companies on how they can make a difference through the work they do, through their recruitment practices, hiring targets, and diversity stats, Bencci mentioned. They can also volunteer in organisations like CodeYourFuture that create an optimal space for people to share their skills and experience with others who have fewer opportunities, he explained:

It’s about trying to find the biggest impact with the resources you have available, but concentrating on seeing yourself as a resource.

Bencci argued that people want education and jobs. They want to have the lives that professionals have. They want a job, a social status, work colleagues, to work at a company, have a salary, provide for their families, and become a role model to their children. People want to be given an opportunity to become a working professional.

Inclusive training means that you consider a wide range of individuals' circumstances and backgrounds, Bencci said. It’s the time and money that people have available and what services can be offered to minimise the entry barriers. It is also about targeting and tracking different aspects of participants to ensure broad participation, including ethnicity, gender, neurodiversity, and socio-economic background.

Bencci gave the example of CodeYourFuture, which measures key stats for the people that join the training, to ensure that they have a fair representation across gender (40% are female), age (average age is 35 and 20% of the trainees are over 40), ethnicity (over 70% are non-European/white origin), socio-economic background (78% are living below the poverty line) and neurodiversity (approximately 30% of the trainees are neurodiverse).

InfoQ interviewed Germán Bencci about creating social impact.

InfoQ: What social impact can for-profit companies have?

Germán Bencci: An example is the recruitment platform Cord, which in the past years donated up to 1% for social causes like CodeYourFuture, while making the most of that initiative to market their own services to their clients.

When they had a person being hired through their platform, they would send a message telling people that their fees had helped other folks of disadvantaged backgrounds be trained and join the tech sector.

InfoQ: What impact does inclusive tech training have?

Bencci: It’s the difference between remaining unemployed or working on very low-income jobs and starting a career full of opportunities and financial rewards. It offers people independence, pride, and confidence. It creates a fundamental shift in their lives, their families, and the people around them. People start believing that a new life is possible.

InfoQ: What can companies do to increase their social impact?

Bencci: Companies that care about social impact should concentrate on creating values and a culture that makes social impact one of their company goals, while keeping their product, profitability, and growth as a priority.

A great social impact company will:

  • Measure team diversity across a number of variables
  • Create diverse hiring practices
  • Create an intentional team sourcing strategy
  • Give new talent growth opportunities
  • Revise spending in areas like marketing to identify ethical spending
  • Secure a sustainable percentage of profitability to fund social impact practices, including within the organisation

There is a lot to be done. Companies don’t have to look too far to make an impact.

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