In today’s world, most people use smartphones, apps, websites, and other forms of technology each day. While the tech sector has solved many of life’s daily problems, there is one problem it continues to struggle with: the low numbers of women, people of color, and other persons from marginalized groups in its workforce. This entry will provide tips for leaders who want to increase diversity in tech.
The State of Diversity in Tech
According to the most recent statistics, saying that the tech sector lacks diversity is a gross understatement. According to OpenMic, a nonprofit dedicated to improving diversity in tech, African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans comprise just 5.3 percent of tech professionals. Women in tech face a similar situation, as they make up just 20 percent of tech employees. Though the situation for women and people of color is dire, the tech industry doesn’t even keep records of its employees who identify as LGBTQ or have disabilities.
While the statistics above are enough cause for concern, the situation is no better for members of marginalized groups after entering the industry. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that white men are 80 percent of those leading tech companies, a figure much higher than in other industries. In fact, the EEOC found that less than three percent of tech firms are led by African American or Latinx managers. According to Business Insider, women lead just 11 percent of Silicon Valley firms. Clearly, the tech sector has not yet solved the puzzle of diversity.
The numbers, however, do not capture the day-to-day experiences of those in the tech sector. One lesbian tech worker told GeekWire that she endured her coworkers’ sexist and homophobic comments for the entirety of her six-month internship at a major tech company. The tech industry’s obsession with youth is so pervasive that older workers have been known to go to great lengths to hide their true ages. Of course, just last year, a Google employee’s rant against diversity went viral. So, not only is the tech sector struggling to hire people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, it is also struggling to support and promote them.
Why Diversity in Tech Matters
Tech leaders should take the industry’s struggles with diversity seriously. While the lack of diversity clearly harms workers, it also hurts customers, companies, and the entire industry.
Like other industries, the tech sector can reap the many benefits of diversity, including higher profits. However, diversity also provides the tech industry with unique benefits. The tech sector is growing so rapidly that experts predict that the industry will create nearly 1.4 million new jobs in the next two years. However, they also predict that there will be only 400,000 employees capable of filling these positions. Investing in diversity now could help the tech sector fill the one million positions that will otherwise go vacant.
Diversity will also help the tech sector create products that serve everyone. Costly product failures – such as hand or face recognition applications that only recognize white skin – can be avoided when people with a wider variety of experiences are in the room. On the other hand, excluding certain groups from the table keeps the tech industry from finding the ever-elusive “next big thing.” Involving more people in the process increases the innovation and creativity the tech sector so desperately depends on. It also creates opportunities to create products for tech customers – such as people with disabilities – who are woefully underserved. In sum, tech companies without diversity are ensuring that they will quickly become obsolete.
Finally, diversity will help companies recruit and retain employees. Experts indicate that the lack of women in tech is one of the biggest obstacles to recruiting more women. Moreover, women and people of color who leave the industry often cite the lack of diversity as a reason for leaving. Given the high cost of recruiting and replacing employees, tech leaders who care about the bottom line should care about diversity.
Barriers to Diversity in Tech
Some of the barriers faced by the tech industry are internal, while others exist outside the industry. No matter the causes, these barriers must be addressed before the industry can become diverse.
One of the oft-cited reasons for the tech sector’s lack of diversity is the “leaky pipeline” issue. In other words, women, people of color, and other people from nondominant groups do not enroll in tech programs, so they lack the credentials to enter the industry. There is some support for this hypothesis, as Wired Magazine found that white male computer science majors greatly outnumber those from other groups. Some experts note that the tech sector’s recruiting practices tend to favor certain racial and socioeconomic groups, or people who have access to certain types of early life exposure to technology that is out of reach for many. Recruiting at certain schools or using masculine language in ads also perpetuates the status quo. Tech companies must look in new places to find new talent.
While the tech industry is bolstering ways it can make new access points to tech as a career, it must also pay attention to how people are treated once they enter. In other words, balance recruitment efforts with investments in retention. Pay inequities between employees of varying races, ages, or genders create distrust and lower morale. Women often report that tech is a “boy’s club” where women are, at best, ignored or worse, openly harassed. Tech employees from non-dominant groups also state that while the tech sector talks about diversity, the talk rarely leads to action.
The tech sector is known for finding new and creative solutions to problems. Certainly, if the sector applies its ingenuity and energy to solving the problem of diversity in tech, it will succeed. Tech leaders who are interested in exploring new approaches to diversity in the workforce should consider enrolling in The Equity Toolkit. This set of courses will give tech leaders the tools they need to transform their workplaces.
Photo courtesy Women of Color in Tech (Microsoft). Used under a Creative Commons license.