Is the glaring lack of diversity in tech a cultural issue?

Is the glaring lack of diversity in tech a cultural issue?

There are a seemingly endless number of stories about the appalling lack of diversity in the tech industry, from women to people of color to the disabled to an aging workforce to STEAM education for kids. These vast workforce, social and cultural inequities have led to what is now being exposed as a notorious lack of diversity and education in the tech industry.

An August story in Forbes titled “The Lack of Diversity in Tech is a Culture Issue” summarized the latest shocking statistics and offered the real reason why the tech industry has incredibly low employment numbers for women and other “minorities”: there’s a culture of exclusion in the tech industry and it isn’t getting any better.

Here are just a few of the studies mentioned in the Forbes story:

Is the “gender gap” in the tech industry a “pipeline issue?’” asks the Forbes story. That’s just not so, say the stats. “Recently updated information indicates an equal number of high school girls and boys participating in STEM electives, and at Stanford and Berkeley, 50% of the introductory computer science students are women. That may be the case, but the U.S. Census Bureau reported last year that twice as many men as women with the same qualifications were working in STEM fields.”

USA Today disclosed in a study that “top universities graduate black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering students at twice the rate that the leading technology companies hire them. Although these companies state they don’t have a qualified pool of applicants, the evidence does not support that claim.”

A former Microsoft “senior leader,” Kieran Snyder (now CEO and co-founder of Textio), filed a report stating he had “interviewed 716 women who held tech positions at 654 companies in 43 states. On average, these women worked in tech for seven years and then left.

Kieran asked these women specifically why they opted out. Some 192 women (27 percent) cited discomfort working in these companies. The overt or implicit discrimination was a primary factor in their decision to leave tech. That’s just over a quarter of the women surveyed. Several of them mentioned discrimination related to their age, race, or sexuality in addition to gender and motherhood. They also stated that lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare all contributed to their decision to leave.”

The UC Hastings College of Law undertook a study of women of color in the science. Every single one of the 60 women scientists interviewed reported gender and racial bias of some kind. “Nearly half of the Black and Latina scientists reported they had been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff, and the majority of Black, Latina, and Asian-American women stated they felt compelled to provide more proof to co-workers that they were as competent as their male peers. More than half of the participants reported receiving backlash when they expressed anger or assertiveness at work. Sixty-four percent who are mothers experienced discrimination and gender stereotyping.”
Fortunately, there is an ever-growing, ever-louder movement towards inclusion when it comes to the tech biz.

However, the reality is the tech business discourages women, minorities, the disabled, seniors and even kids (via education) to continue in the industry. In fact, say says the Forbes story, “gender and racial bias are so ubiquitous in the technology industry that it forces talented female and minority employees to leave.”

Some companies are finally starting to listen and steer their giant workforces to address these cultural issues. It certainly didn’t hurt when President Obama organized the inaugural “White House Demo Day” on Aug. 4 to honor and highlight women and minority tech founders. Obama’s call to action at this event then opened what seemed like a tidal flow of “diversity initiatives” for hiring great numbers of women and minorities by major tech companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Pinterest.

Bonnie Marcus, the author of the story in Forbes, cited these answers for this hopefully changing culture phenomenon. She recommends companies and organizations “recognize the bias and unfair workplace practices” and begin to “design customized programs to help retain their talented employees.”

For companies committed to these initiatives, she gave the following suggestions:

1) “retain an outside firm to do a thorough assessment of the culture of the organization including discrimination in pay and hiring practices” and secure a commitment from senior leadership to “address gender and racial issues”

2) “offer mandatory training in unconscious bias for every employee….for all employees at every level”

3) “develop career paths that enable employees to see their potential advancement opportunities” while having a “clearly defined plan and support” so talented employees don’t “lose interest and leave believing the company is not invested in their success.”

What many tech companies are missing is the multi-billion-dollar buying power of women, minorities and other disenfranchised groups. Hopefully, more and more tech companies will recognize this abhorrent lack of diversity is impacting their bottom lines and are implementing better inclusion strategies to balance out what has become a blood stain on the technological fabric of American industry.


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