Back in 2014, major tech companies began collectively publishing diversity data. The recent scandals that rocked Uber and Google have made it clear that diversity and inclusion are still very hot topics for the tech world. Because we pride ourselves on being the data specialists for all things workplace related, we decided to dive even deeper into our data. It turns out many of these companies are making a lot of noise with their diversity outcomes but with little effect.
In fact, it appears things might be trending in the wrong direction. According to Nathan Ensmenger, a computing historian, and professor at Indiana University, “About 35% of computer programmers in the period between 1955 and 1970 are women.” Today, at tech companies, “women make up at most 30 percent of leadership roles and less than 27% of technical roles at these companies,” according to the data gathered below by Recode this year.
The numbers look even worse for tech companies when race is examined and especially when intersectionality – a term used to describe the overlapping of identifying factors such as sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, and class – is considered.
Ellen Pao, Co-Founder and CEO of Project Include, discusses the topic of intersectionality within tech and the fact that women of color have it the toughest when it comes to reaching the executive level. She adds that “while white men are 41 percent more likely to be executives than white women, they are 260 percent more likely than Asian women, and over 400 percent more likely than Black women and Latinx women.”
In support of the argument that little has changed over the years are the frequent sexual harassment scandals that continue to trouble the tech industry as well as the VC firms funding and working with female founders. Six women came forward accusing Justin Caldbeck, a Co-Founder of Binary Capital, a San Francisco-based VC firm, of sexual harassment, which eventually led to his resignation.
Not only is there a lack of diversity in the tech workforce, but it also carries over to the venture capital firms. Only one percent of funded startup founders were black, even though they make up 11 percent of the U.S. population,” according to a 2015 report from CB Insights. This might be due, in part, to the fact that venture capital firms are shown to be primarily staffed by white males.
In an effort to self-correct the VC investment trend, minorities and those in support of funding marginalized founders are starting their own VC firms to get around the problem. Founded in 2015, 72 percent of Backstage Capital’s funded founders are of color. And, an impressive 44 percent were founded by women of color, a point of intersectionality as I mentioned earlier.
The wildly popular ride sharing company, Uber, is another company at the forefront of sexual harassment scandals. When former engineer Susan Fowler blogged about the gender bias and sexual harassment she endured at Uber, that kicked off an independent investigation of the company, which included a whopping 200 allegations of sexual harassment. The result was the firing of a total of 20 employees.
When Uber released their diversity statistics for the first time in March of this year, despite being founded in 2009, those numbers were equally disappointing. Their report showed that only 15 percent of engineers are women and black and Hispanic employees make up only 15 percent of its workforce.
If you’re tempted to believe that lack of diversity is only a big problem with a few bad apples, think again. Only one percent of the workforce at Facebook, Yahoo, Airbnb, and Google are black, according to reporters at Gizmodo, who compiled 2015 diversity reports in order to view the bigger picture.
There’s also the controversial memo posted to an internal discussion group by James Damore that made the rounds at Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet, the second largest tech company in the world. The former Google engineer argued that biological causes are the reason for gender equality in the tech industry. Since his firing, he’s supported his point of view by sharing #Fired4Truth! on social media sites.
If all of these issues weren’t enough, there’s also evidence of ageism among tech companies. What’s more problematic is that companies aren’t required to report the ages of employees to the EEOC, nor do companies typically monitor age-related statistics. It became an issue for Dan Lyons, author of Disrupted, who details his journey from journalism to tech that began at the age of 52.
When his position as tech editor was eliminated at Newsweek in 2012, Lyons joined Hubspot, a software company that offers tools for marketers to increase inbound lead generation for online SMBs. There, he found most of his colleagues to be half his age. In fact, the median age of Hubspot employees at the time was 26.
Even the AARP is well aware of the systematic ageism occurring in tech companies today. AARP Senior Attorney Laurie McCann in her written testimony sent to the EEOC in May of last year, wrote that “it would appear that age discrimination is very prevalent in the technology sector of the economy.”
Her written testimony concludes by mentioning that AARP’s California state office also submitted comments urging particular attention to hiring issues, including age-related job postings and application procedures, and urged the Commission to pay particular attention to problem industries such as Silicon Valley.
While the EEOC reports the median age of the American workers to be 42, it’s much lower at the tech behemoths. The average age is more likely to be 31 (Apple), 30 (Google, Tesla), 29 (Facebook, LinkedIn), or younger.
What’s equally disturbing is that many tech leaders and CEOs seemingly don’t seem to care about ageism as a problem. Rather their focus on diversity is geared towards gender or race. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unabashedly once told a Stanford audience, “Younger people are just smarter.”
Admittedly, the problem with ageism in tech could be correlated to the fact that tech startups tend to offer low salaries and below average benefits, something that anyone over the age of 40 is unlikely to accept for multiple reasons.
But for someone in their 20s, those factors are less worrisome and therefore not a barrier to accepting employment with those conditions. It certainly has to be a contributing factor and one that should also be considered. Inherently, we all know the younger you are the more risks you are likely to take.
To be clear – fixing this situation is as important for companies as it is for society as a whole. Research from a 2015 report from the global management consulting company McKinsey and Company showed that “companies in the top quarter for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national medians.”
We also have to consider that women or minorities might not bother trying to work for tech companies or in male-dominated functional areas because of their previous bad experiences, fear of harassment, or the knowledge that being different will make them stand out. I’d also be willing to bet that all the problems I’ve mentioned could be leading to a mass exodus out of tech by women and minorities.
The good news is that now, more than ever, women and minorities are studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). According to the American Society for Engineering Education, women were awarded 23.1% of doctoral degrees in 2015 versus 21.3% in 2009. And, more women and minorities are taking college-level computer classes in high school than in prior years.
But, is it like James Damore said? Are there biological differences that simply make men better at STEM than women? What’s interesting are studies like the one conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When a technology-oriented problem-solving challenge was presented to eighth-grade students, the results were noteworthy; “45% of eighth-grade girls were at least proficient at these tasks, compared with 42% of eighth-grade boys.”
So, why do significantly fewer women continue to study STEM by the time they reach college? That is a question we need to continue to ask and address. According to the ASEE, women received only 19.9% of the engineering degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2014. According to the National Science Foundation, 18 percent of those graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science were female, which is down from 25 percent in 2004.
Fortunately, there has been a surge of funding efforts by nonprofit organizations and tech companies to generate interest in amongst women and minorities to pursue STEM careers. At the same time, we need to continue to review the data regularly. We need to continue to find innovative ways to address the problem and make sure that the programs that are put into place deliver tangible results. Otherwise, we’re just going to hear a lot of noise that in the end doesn’t change anything.
In my next article, I’ll be doing an in-depth look at some of the initiatives that are being worked on, and some of the most promising solutions.