Shining the Spotlight on Big Tech

“There’s a strong belief that tech is inherently a meritocracy – that the best and the brightest are the ones running the industry, getting promoted, getting venture capital funding. I think tech has been unwilling to take a deep, thorough look at itself to see the ways in which dozens, hundreds if not millions of subtle biases are built into the culture of the industry.”

Freada Kapor Klein

Just over 5 years ago, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft released their first diversity reports. Overwhelmingly their workforces were made up of white and Asian men. 5 years later, and the results are still very much the same. With promises to do better, these statistics show they have been anything but. It’s also worth pointing out, Amazon doesn’t release the individual demographics for their tech workforce. Their demographics include the majority of employees working in distribution centres and other varying roles.

 

 

The ‘Pipeline Problem’

When we look at a lack of diversity in tech, many turn their heads towards ‘fixing the pipeline’. This is the idea that any given company focuses their efforts on boosting the number of minority groups (both women and people of different racial backgrounds) studying STEM subjects which will eventually lead to a job in industry. This term has long been thrown around by the likes of the big five, whereby they pour funds into not-for-profits and organisations that will provide efficient, accessible education for an increasingly diverse classroom. Sounds great right?

In 2020, I think we need to take the view that in some instances, a heavy focus on ‘fixing the pipeline’ is actually somewhat damaging to businesses. Whilst providing a launchpad for entry-level students is incredibly important, there are other systemic disadvantages that seem to be getting lost under pipeline labelling. Looking at the above infographic will tell you that in 2019 some of the biggest tech companies saw little to no increase in a diverse workforce. Take Apple, for example, not one of Apple’s executive profiles belongs to a black person. You can read more about why this is an issue here. Google’s 2020 Diversity Report states it has seen ‘the largest gains in Black+ tech hiring in the U.S. since they started publishing data’. That’s not even a 1% increase on the previous year. Is this really the best these companies can do?

Google’s Diversity Report 2020 – Summary of hiring statistics compared with 2019 Report.

A snapshot of Apple’s Diversity Report.

Shining a spotlight on Big Tech means shining a spotlight on one particular location, the U.S. The below statistics were gathered from a Diversity in Tech report:

As stated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employment in Computer Science and Engineering is growing at twice the rate of the national average. There are also almost twice as many job postings in STEM fields as there are qualified applicants to fill them. This reinforces a legitimate need for businesses to focus on their ‘pipeline’.

As cited from the EEOC’s Diversity in High Tech report, gradate enrolments in Science and Engineering grew 35% over the last decade. Notably:

  • Hispanic/Latino enrolment increased by 65%

  • American Indian/Alaska Native enrolment increased by 55%

  • African American enrolment increased by 50%

In 2014, the AFL-CIO reported that Black professionals represented 9.3% of the professional workforce and Hispanic professionals 8.2% (This is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data). They also stated: 

  • In computer and mathematical occupations, 8.3% of workers were Black or African American, 6.3% were Hispanic or Latino.

  • In the life, physical, and social sciences, black professionals were under-represented, making up 5.6% of the workforce, and in architecture and engineering occupations, Black professionals were just 5.5% of the workforce in 2013.

  • Workers of Hispanic origin comprised 7.5% of the architecture and engineering field and 7.9% of life, physical, and social scientists.

Based on data from the American Community Survey, there is a racial and ethnic pay gap as well: Asian Americans reported the highest average earnings in STEM occupations, while non-Hispanic whites also had above average earnings; black and Hispanic professionals earned below average wages in 2012.

Systemic Disadvantages

So what are these ‘systemic disadvantages’ that are being overlooked as a result of the pipeline? Bias is arguably the number one factor that pushes women to leave STEM careers. In a US-based Tech Leavers Study by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, the publication details why individuals voluntarily leave their jobs in tech. They discovered that ‘unfair treatment is the single largest driver of turnover affecting all groups, and most acutely affects underrepresented professionals.’ Factors such as harassment, unfair stereotyping and poor pay all have a part to play here. This will be expanded on in an upcoming blog post.

How can we fix this?

By no means is the glaring lack of diversity in tech an easy, overnight fix, but there are several steps that should be standard practice among all companies, no matter their size:

  1. Analyse the pipeline. The funds are there, but where and at what point is a diverse workforce lost?

  2. If not the pipeline, what about ‘culture fit’? Are you actively hiring in a biased fashion? Do your companies values need to change?

  3. Listen. Listen to your employees and aim to take on honest feedback from those who leave. Were there preventative measures you could have taken?

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