What Obstacles Are Still in Place for Diversity in Big Tech?

By Daniel Cody | Content Manager Diversity in Technology

Many researchers and — disappointingly — employers, still argue that the lack of diversity in the tech industry is a pipeline problem. Whilst a lower number of women and people from black and minority ethnic groups studying these subjects does affect the overall diversity of the tech industry, it is not the only important factor.

The truth is, the vast majority of issues affecting people from minority groups are occurring once they get to the workplace. These obstacles, in company culture, and in the expectations of those who are hiring underrepresented groups, are the hardest ones to break, and the ones still standing firm in some of the biggest companies in tech.

A Big Tech Problem

Lack of diversity is a problem seen in nearly all industries. From construction, to the music industry, and across FTSE 100 boardrooms, some of the biggest companies are woefully short on BME and female employees. Taken to the level of big tech, however, the numbers become undeniable.

In June 2017, 35% of Facebook’s global workforce was female. Over at Google, black employees now make up 2% of the company’s United States presence. As two of the biggest companies in the world, let alone in tech, their example creates a benchmark in the global consciousness, influencing the perception of tech for everyone, including prospective employees.

Once they get their foot in the door, the issues facing BME and female employees become ever-present, and a new set of challenges awaits. The gender pay gap in big tech companies (with more than 250 employees) was revealed earlier this year to be 19%; in contrast, the median gap for UK employees across all sectors was 9.7%

Studies have shown that these trends continue as employees rise through the ranks. Data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, studying employees in the Silicon Valley tech industry, showed that Asian Americans were least likely of all races to become managers or executives in the sector, despite having more employees in the Valley than any other BME group.

The Hidden Bias

Even the level of scrutiny applied to the work of these employees is harsher. A group of computer scientists from California Polytechnic State University and North Carolina State University found that women’s coding contributions were accepted more on the open-source platform GitHub than men’s, but only if the administrator did not know the contributor was female.

This kind of hidden bias has always been one of the hardest obstacles for diversity in the workplace, and one which is less spoken of than other higher profile issues such as harassment and the pay gap. Underrepresented employees are less likely to go further in their careers if their work is undervalued.

When pre-existing stereotypes around employees are no longer present, and good work takes priority over bias in the tech sector, female and BME employees can start to have more positive experiences in their career.

The impact of unfairness

Looking at the range of different stories coming out of big tech in the last decade, and the statistics that support them, one thing that’s clear is the treatment of employees in many companies leaves a lot to be desired. This is reflected in the sheer numbers of employees leaving their field, particularly minorities — research by Wired found that people of colour leave the tech field at more than 3.5 times the rate of white men. In what is perhaps the most damning assessment, a study by the Kapor Center for Social Impact found that turnover due to unfairness is costing tech employers $16 billion per year.

At our Diversity in Technology event in London last year, we heard stories from countless men and women who had experienced some form of unfair treatment or discrimination in the workplace. What became clear was that sharing experiences and openly discussing issues surrounding diversity was key to them feeling more confident and empowered.

That’s why at this year’s event we’re hosting talks on some of the key issues in the diversity and inclusion space, such as the effectiveness of diversity quotas, and how to better raise awareness of mental health issues. As the old saying goes, the first step to solving a problem is admitting that there is one. We will also be providing strategies and tactics that can be applied in the workplace, to create real opportunities for those employees who are often overlooked or undervalued.

It begins with inclusion

Real progress also requires an environment conducive to change. Inclusion is key — work places must foster a sense of belonging and community, where people are happy to represent their company. Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) go hand in hand, yet companies often place greater emphasis on ticking the Diversity box, when perhaps they should create an inclusive culture before they bring in a diverse workforce.

Embedding D&I practices throughout all aspects of your business not only helps to drive innovation but having them in place also allows you to attract and retain the best talent and, most importantly, deliver exceptional client service. This cycle of inclusion and a higher quality of delivery is where tech truly reaps its reward.

By illuminating and taking action against the remaining obstacles for D&I, whether it be through employee workshops, transparency in employee data, or raising the level of conversation and awareness about the issue in everyday work life, we can start to push D&I higher up the agenda in big tech businesses.