While diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) have remained a critical aspect of business for years, conversations surrounding its importance typically ebb and flow. Tech industry DE&I became a widely discussed topic for companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement dominated news headlines.
Many companies will attempt to bolster their DE&I efforts using different strategies. Critical sectors have made great strides in DE&I, but some industries are still falling behind. The tech industry is no exception.
Below, let’s learn more about tech industry DE&I, why it’s lacking and how these companies can improve.
Understanding DE&I in the Technology Sector
One of the main purposes of adopting a DE&I program or initiative is to develop a workplace that represents society. It promotes the participation of different groups of individuals. An employee or job-seeker should be provided with equal opportunities regardless of their educational background, age, abilities, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion or culture.
Regardless of an organization’s size, industry, or location, DE&I should be one of its top priorities. However, it seems as though DE&I efforts in tech have failed to spark any major behavioral changes.
In 2020, CNBC reported that many tech companies valued diversity but had little to show for it. Many big tech companies had a low number of Black employees. According to CNBC’s report, Facebook went from a 3% Black to 3.8% Black workforce in the last six years.
According to Pew Research Center, Black and Hispanic workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers are still underrepresented. Black workers make up 9% and Hispanic workers make up 8% of the STEM workforce. Pew also reports that women are significantly underrepresented in engineering and computing jobs.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that 83% of executives in the nationwide tech sector are white. Of those executives, about 80% are men and 20% are women. Despite DE&I becoming a pressing issue in the modern workforce, it seems as though white men are dominant in tech occupations and the industry.
Tech Sector: Falling Behind in DE&I
Many tech leaders have argued that the industry is suffering from a pipeline problem. This makes it more challenging for them to hire candidates from underrepresented groups, such as Black or Latinx job-seekers. The pipeline argument claims that the sector lacks diversity because there’s a lack of qualified talent in the job market.
However, evidence suggests that the lack of diversity in tech is not due to the pipeline problem. In an article by TechCrunch, Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee mentioned that if the lack of DE&I were a pipeline problem, tech companies would first have to claim they’ve hired everyone available in the pipeline.
One reason tech industry DE&I is lacking is because of common misconceptions people have about the tech industry.
For example, people may think tech companies would be more likely to hire a male candidate over a female candidate, or they’d be more willing to hire a white person over a person of color.
Another thing to consider is the unique set of challenges that members of the LGBTQ+ community face. Aside from feeling alienated, LGBTQ+ workers may feel unsafe or uncomfortable in a company that doesn’t foster a welcoming, diverse or inclusive workplace.
It’s also worth mentioning that, traditionally, tech companies required a four-year degree for most of their roles. This requirement is a barrier to tech industry DE&I. It dismisses any individual without a degree, even if they have the knowledge, passion, or prior experience in tech.
Additionally, it’s common for individuals to get hired for a tech job if referred by a current employee. Referred candidates often get preferential treatment during the hiring process. If a tech company only employs referred job-seekers, it can make it more challenging for diverse candidates to fill these positions.
How Tech Companies Can Improve DE&I Efforts
Tech companies must address the lack of DE&I the industry faces. Ultimately, more DE&I initiatives need to come directly from the top of an organization. Executives must work consciously to foster an inclusive company culture and avoid blaming the so-called “pipeline problem.”
Thankfully, it seems like the future of DE&I in tech is headed in the right direction. In 2021, the Action to Catalyze Tech report was released, which is essentially a blueprint and guide for companies to follow if they want to improve their DE&I outcomes.
There are other ways tech companies can improve their DE&I practices. For example, it’s common for executives or other professionals in different industries to participate in panel discussions regarding DE&I, whether it’s addressing challenges faced by LGBTQ+ employees or barriers Black workers face during the hiring process.
Some industry leaders also suggest leveraging tech, such as VR and AR, to aid DE&I efforts. According to Nichol Bradford, executive director of the Transformative Technology Lab at Sofia University and CEO and founder of the Willow Group, “with seven billion people, we need the added support and insight [of new tech].”
Lastly, according to CIO, many nonprofit organizations are trying to improve diversity in the tech community, including:
- Black Girls Code
- Lesbians Who Tech
- National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)
- Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)
- Wonder Women Tech
- Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)
Chipping Away at the Lack of DE&I in Tech
Change cannot happen overnight, so it will likely take some time for tech companies to improve their DE&I efforts. Whether it means revisiting their DE&I strategy, hiring a DEI officer, or even starting an open dialogue with employees, more needs to be done to become more representative of all individuals and society as a whole.
There’s no single reason to explain the lack of DE&I in tech, but more companies in this space need to realize how important it is to prioritize DE&I moving forward.
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