Tech companies need to check their diversity blind spots

August 9, 2021

7 minutes of reading

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


If you are not sure whether there is bias or discrimination in your organization, consider the statistics we have discovered in our Equality in technology report, which was the culmination of a survey of more than 9,000 working technologists.

In conclusion, our study revealed a number of deep perception gaps between the demographic groups regarding the degree of prejudice and discrimination in the workplace.

For example, some 80 percent of black tech workers say they have experienced gender or racial discrimination in the workplace, and more than 30 percent say racial inequality is “very common” in the tech industry.

In contrast, less than 15 percent of white technologists see racial inequality as common in technology. As a non-minority technologist, I can understand that this is a gap that can be born naturally from our variety of lived experiences. But this research data reinforces for me as a leader that I have to look beyond my own observations.

Similar trends are occurring for gender bias. Thirty-one percent of women in the tech sector say gender inequality is “very common,” while 12 percent of men see it happening to the same extent. Sure, men may not see it because they often don’t experience it themselves.

These numbers suggest statistically significant differences in perceptions, and one that is only reinforced by the fact that women and people of color are not as well represented in C-suites and boardrooms of tech companies. That means leadership ā€” even using what they believe to be strenuous efforts in diversity and inclusion ā€” can’t solve the problems their own employees say they see.

And failure puts companies in a precarious position to retain and attract talent. No market is more competitive and there is no more in-demand talent than technical professionals. They have leverage to choose their next employer, and diversity and inclusion efforts are an important factor in building the right reputation for fostering the kind of teamwork and creativity they typically strive for.

You may be wondering: is this really an important factor for employees and applicants to consider when considering their options? Aren’t the salary, or the problem to be solved, the main drivers of recruitment? Diversity is also a big factor. About 65 percent of black respondents, 53 percent of Asian Indian respondents, 51 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander respondents, 50 percent of Hispanic/Latino(a) respondents, and 41 percent of white respondents say yes , that’s true.

Technology diversity and inclusivity creates value, say our respondents. As a manager I see it too. The innovation and contributions of a workforce that is balanced between gender, age, ethnicity and socioeconomic background can be a critical success factor. More than half of the men and nearly three in four women in our survey agree that a diverse workforce improves morale and collaboration within the company.

So you may find these numbers convincing. Or you have always believed in the impact diversity can have on organizations. But where to start? In reality, building a truly diverse and inclusive workforce is multifaceted and also improves retention, which is just as important as getting new people on board. But the first step does start at the beginning: with hiring.

Drawing up a step-by-step plan for hiring diverse technical talent

Start with a simple realization that hiring and promotion processes are infused with bias. It is normal to have prejudices; we have them all.

Unconscious biases arise from stereotypes, experiences, old practices, and comfort levels, all of which must be recognized before they can be addressed. Hiring processes that have been around for years will probably need to be examined, if not completely replaced. For example, managers tend to hire people they know, or people who come through their network. Relying on these limited groups is unlikely to increase diversity within an organization, as all too often managers select people who are similar to themselves.

Take an honest look at screening practices, sourcing and data.

To make a difference, try anonymizing features in applications that provide clues about an applicant’s gender or background to make the process fairer. Use a structured, objective approach to match the applicant’s skills with the skills the job requires. Remove identifying information such as names, ages, photos, locations, languages, and preferences that can act as socioeconomic cues. By taking initiatives like this, companies increase their chances of attracting the diverse and inclusive workforce they want.

Using the right stats and talent pools

Many in tech will call it “a pipeline problem” because of their lack of diversity. For example, there aren’t that many women or people of color in the talent pool. To manage this, a technology company’s diversity benchmark can be based on the population of technologists in general: how many are women, how many people of color, how many have disabilities, and so on. If a quarter of the tech population is female, that’s a bottom line to meet and hopefully surpass. Measure your tech company against the tech world.

Women today have about one in four computer jobs, less than one in three 30 years ago. Climb the job ladder, women hold one in six senior technical jobs and one in 10 technical leadership positions. Among people of color, black, Hispanic and indigenous technologists include: anywhere from 5 percent, in Silicon Valley, to 16 percent of the IT workforce in general. At our company, we survey the diversity among our technologists on a monthly basis to make sure we are on the right track and making progress.

Diverse talent has long been easier to find in urban hubs like New York and Los Angeles and much more challenging to find in Denver and Des Moines. Today, however, with remote work taking hold, companies are much less constrained by their geographic location to attract the technologists they need and want.

It helps to start looking for talent in the right places. By thinking beyond traditional recruiting practices, companies can find the candidates they’re looking for.

In our case, we post all of our job postings on nearly a dozen sites that attract different employees. Look for platforms like powertofly.com, womenwhocode.com, peopleofcolorintech.com and jobjobs.com that host vacancies and attract job seekers. Go where the technologists congregate in underrepresented groups.

Moving now to meet diversity benchmarks will likely serve you well in the long run, as investors and regulators increasingly demand diversity and inclusion. This is the ā€œSā€ in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) reporting. The Securities and Exchange Commission under President Biden’s choice of Chairman Gary Gensler has indicated that interest in more disclosure by companies about social policy objectivessuch as senior management diversity, employee turnover and remuneration.

Many of the largest companies already voluntarily report their statistics in anticipation of such mandates. It is becoming clear that well-intentioned efforts in themselves are necessary but insufficient. Results will become increasingly important.

It helps to see organizational diversity as a journey rather than a destination. And for many companies, the first hurdle to get started is, and to overcome it, some steps need to be taken in the right direction.

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