Tech companies have traditionally responded to calls for diversity in the industry by releasing annual workplace statistics and restating commitments to improving equality. These efforts, however, have had little impact, as data continues to show that BIPOC workers, women, and LGBTQ+ employees still face discrimination, underrepresentation, and inequality in the tech industry.
Compared to overall private industry employment, the high-tech sector employs a larger share of whites (63.5% to 68.5%), Asian Americans (5.8% to 14%) and men (52% to 64%), and a smaller share of African Americans (14.4% to 7.4%), Hispanics (13.9% to 8%) and women (48% to 36%), according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
At the executive level, more than 83% of executives are white, and 80% are men, compared to the overall private sector where 71% of executives are men and 83% are white. USA Today analyzed the most recent proxy statements regarding racial injustice in America from the 50 largest companies in the Standards & Poor’s 100 and of all the executives listed in the proxy statements, only 5 (1.8%) were Black, and two of them had recently retired.
But after 2020, the culture for change may be shifting. BLM protests, the MeToo movement and growing awareness around LGBTQ+ rights have provided renewed focus on disparities in pay, opportunity and success that underrepresented groups face in the workplace. Now, it’s more important than ever for tech companies to prove their commitment to closing the gender and diversity gap in tech — and companies appear to be responding with more substantial policies than before.
To get a sense at the various ways in which the tech industry is responding, here’s a look at how five major tech giants and one small tech transparency standout are demonstrating renewed commitments to D&I.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has openly supported the Black Lives Matter movement, stating the company is “committed to take action to help address racial injustice and inequality, and unequivocally believes that Black lives matter.” The company released a five-year plan that details how the company plans to combat racial injustice and inequality for the Black and African American community and how it will address the needs of other underrepresented groups, including the Hispanic and Latinx communities. Microsoft stands out in its response to racial inequality in that its announcement doesn’t skirt the issue but instead faces it head on with a direct plan and an open mind.
The plan consists of three main goals, the first of which is to increase representation and to create a culture of inclusion in the organization. Microsoft plans to invest an additional $150 million into D&I and to double the number of Black managers, senior individual contributors and senior leaders by 2025. The second goal is to engage the company’s ecosystem to “extend the vision for societal change throughout our ecosystem” by creating new opportunities for suppliers and partners and their communities. The third goal is to “use the power of data, technology and partnership” to help improve the lives of Black citizens across the country and to address the safety and well-being of employees and their communities.
In his message, Nadella breaks down each goal and how the company plans to achieve it through specific steps and measurable actions — too many to include in this article. He also acknowledges that it will be a continuous effort on Microsoft’s part, stating this isn’t a “one-time event,” and that it will require constant reflection, listening, learning and adjustment as the company works to drive change and “act with intention.”
Diverse employees gave Microsoft a score of 75 across various culture categories on Comparably, a website that aggregates employee rankings for various companies. Microsoft ranks in the top 15% of U.S. companies with 10,000-plus employees for its gender and diversity scores. Diverse employees and women at Microsoft both rated the company at A- for perks and benefits, CEO rating, and happiness. When asked whether they believe they’re paid fairly, 74% of women said yes, and 69% of diverse employees said the same.
Update: On Dec. 10, Microsoft observed Human Rights Day 2020 and updated the company’s Global Human Rights Statement, which was originally released in 2012 and last updated in 2016. The statement addresses the impacts of the global pandemic on human rights, including a lack of access to medical care, work, and education. It also highlights racial injustice and the global need for “everyone, including leaders, businesses and individuals, to uphold behaviors and principles that protect and preserve the rights and freedoms of everyone in all societies,” according to a press release from Microsoft.
Microsoft also held its AI for Accessibility Hackathon virtually for the first time across 14 Asia Pacific countries. It’s an event that serves as a “springboard” for Microsoft to “identify and advance technologies that make the world more accessible and inclusive.” The company also launched the Microsoft Enabler Program in September 2020 with employer partners and nonprofit organizations to improve “the employability of people with disabilities through digital skills and corporate training, internships and job shadowing.” And Microsoft recently partnered with the Milwaukee Bucks, Green Bay Packers, and Milwaukee Brewers to form a “venture capital partnership that will invest in minority-owned firms,” according to the Milwaukee Business Journal.
Google faced backlash in May when NBC published a story alleging that the company scaled back and ended popular diversity programs, including one called Sojourn that focused on educating employees about implicit bias, privilege, and discrimination, according to ex and current employees. According to Google, the program was heavily focused on racism in the U.S. and couldn’t scale up to the global level, but the former employees felt it was done to “avoid being perceived as anti-conservative,” according to NBC.
But in the wake of the BLM movement, Google CEO Sundar Pichai released a statement supporting the Black community and acknowledged the structural and systemic racism that Black people face in America. Pichai announced steps Google plans to take to “build sustainable equity for Google’s Black+ community” by creating “meaningful change” within the company. He reinforced the company’s commitment to funding education initiatives that support minority communities, racial justice organizations, and for Black business owners and entrepreneurs. He also announced specific steps that Google plans to take to combat inequality.
First, Google pledges to improve Black representation at senior levels and has committed to increasing the representation of underrepresented groups by 30% by 2025. Pichai has also created a task force to identify challenges with hiring, retention, and promotion at all levels for underrepresented groups and how to improve the process for diverse candidates and employees. The company also plans to identify corporate policies that have implicit bias by listening to Black Googler’s experiences and finding ways to ensure they feel safe in the workplace. And it is establishing a range of anti-racism educational programs that will scale globally, as well as mandated management training for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Finally, Pichai announced more mental and physical health support benefits for BIPOC workers.
Diverse employees gave Google an overall score of 78 across culture categories on Comparably, which places the company in the top 10% of large organizations. Diverse employees at Google gave the company an A grade, ranking perks and benefits, happiness, and compensation as the highest categories. Women at Google gave the company a grade of A+, citing perks and benefits, happiness, and compensation as the highest scoring categories. Around 82% of women at Google feel they’re paid fairly, while 80% of diverse employees say the same.
Update: Google has faced recent backlash for firing its top black female executive, according to NBC News. Around 800 Google employees have voiced their support for Timnit Gebru, technical co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, who announced on Twitter that she was let go because the company’s leadership had “forced her to retract a paper focusing on ethical problems involving the kind of artificial intelligence systems used to understand human language, including one that powers Google’s search engine,” according to the article.
Employees have called for transparency around Timnit’s firing and have asked for more details about Gebru’s firing. Gebru was vocal about her concerns with Google’s diversity issues, especially regarding AI — she is also the co-founder of Black in AI, an organization focused on representation of Black researchers in AI and has conducted extensive research on racial bias in facial recognition technology.
Facebook has long been criticized for a lack of diversity — between 2013 and 2018, Facebook largely failed to increase diversity from underrepresented groups in its U.S. workforce, despite expanding the employee base sixfold, according to analysis by USA Today.
Only 4% of the company’s current workforce is Black, and only 6.3% is Hispanic. Among senior leadership, 3.4% are Black, while 4.3% are Hispanic. Black and Hispanic women account for less than 1% of executives at Facebook. These numbers have increased from last year, but they are moving slowly compared to other tech companies. Facebook is also facing backlash from civil rights auditors that suggest Facebook’s platform harms civil rights more than it helps.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been known for having a more “hands-off” approach to addressing issues of diversity and equality on the social media platform, among other issues. But he did voice support for the BLM movement, stating his commitment to reviewing policies on the site to see whether Facebook should amend any policies regarding posts that involve hate speech, threats of violence and voter suppression. Compared to other companies on this list, Zuckerberg’s commitments feel more like vague promises to ensure there are more “voices at the table,” to reevaluate policies, analyze internal structures, and create more products and services to promote racial justice, but doesn’t give any steps as to how or when the company plans to achieve those goals.
Despite a questionable commitment to diversity and battling injustice on the social media platform, internally at the organization employees rank the company relatively high for diversity. Diverse employees gave the company a score of 78 across various culture categories on Comparably, putting Facebook in the top 10% of large companies for its diversity score. Women at Facebook gave the company an A+, rating happiness, compensation, and perks and benefits as the top categories. Diverse employees at Facebook gave the company an A, ranking happiness, perks and benefits and compensation highest.
Update: Facebook committed to spending $1 billion with companies that are certified as “minority, women, veteran, LGBTQ, or disabled-owned,” also known as “diverse suppliers,” in 2021 along with another $100 million going toward black-owned businesses. According to Facebook’s Annual Diversity Report, the company has already spent more than $1.1 billion with diverse suppliers in the US. Facebook gave $1 million to the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, an organization in Norfolk, Va., that focuses on providing aid to local organizations owned by or serving the Black community. It’s one of 20 organizations to receive the funding through Facebook.
Apple says for the past five years it has “continued to hire more women and underrepresented minorities every year,” citing 53% of new hires are from “historically underrepresented groups in tech,” including women and people who identify as Black, Hispanic, Native American, or Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Representation of underrepresented minorities has increased from 21% in 2014 to 31% as of 2018. Apple also offers Diversity Network Associations, which are employee-led groups designed to “foster a culture of belonging through education, leadership programs and networking.” More than 25,000 employees participate in groups such as Black@Apple, Accessbility@Apple, Women@Apple, and more, including faith-based groups.
The diversity-focused page of Apple’s website focuses more on the company’s progress in the past five years, leaving plans for the future of D&I at Apple somewhat vague. Apple says it is “committed to doing more” and extends that to “hiring more diverse talent for jobs at all levels, attracting candidates from more diverse pipelines, leveraging technology to prevent bias and driving development efforts to increase representation in leadership across the company.” In a memo, CEO Tim Cook voiced support for BLM and announced a renewed commitment to do more to support BIPOC communities and employees.
Diverse employees gave Apple a score of 73, which puts it in the top 20% of companies in the U.S. with 10,000 or more employees. Of those polled, 62% of woman felt they were paid fairly, while 64% of men and 64% of diverse employees said the same. Diverse employees gave Apple an overall grade of B+, ranking highest for CEO rating, perks and benefits, and team culture. Women at Apple gave the company a B grade, ranking highest for perks and benefits, CEO rating, and team culture.
Update: Apple hired former Intel VP Barbara Whye as the new head of inclusion and diversity — she was also included on Fortune’s list of Most Powerful Women this year. Other than that, the company has not made any newsworthy moves in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. The company still hasn’t released any D&I reports for 2020 — the last diversity report from Apple was released in 2018.
Update #2: As of January 2021, Apple has announced a $100 million pledge that includes support for the creation of the Propel Center, which will be an “education hub for HBCUs,” as well as an Apple Developer Academy in Detroit, Mich., and pledge to provide venture capital funding for BIPOC entrepreneurs. These Racial Equity and Justice Initiatives (REJI) are part of a greater strategy announced in June 2020 to make conscious efforts to empower underrepresented communities in tech that have “borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long,” according to a press release from the company.
The Propel Center was designed by Ed Farm, an organization that promotes innovation and educational equity that will work closely with three dozen HBCUs to bring “coding, creativity and career opportunities to campuses and communities across the US.” Apple also established two new grants to support HBCU engineering programs as well as the Faculty Fellow Program, which will support HBCU educators pursuing R&D by providing mentorship programs, curriculum development assistance and funds for lab spaces. Apple will also offer 100 new scholarships, along with mentorship and career development experience, to underrepresented communities through its Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The US Developer Academy will open in downtown Detroit in collaboration with Michigan State University to “empower young Black entrepreneurs, creators and coders” and to help them develop the skills to be competitive in the iOS app development market. Programs will include a 30-day introductory program for aspiring app developers and a 10- to 12-month program to teach developers the skills to build apps and start their own business. Apple also announced contributions and funding for Harlem Capital to support diverse founders for the next 20 years, to the Siebert Willian Shank’s Clear Vision Impact fun to provide capital for small and medium-sized minority-owned companies and to The King Center.
On its diversity webpage, Amazon emphasizes that it ranks on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and has received recognition from the NAACP Equity, Inclusion and Empowerment Index, but the company offers only vague examples of how it empowers diverse voices in the organization. According to the company’s limited workforce data, nearly 50% of managers in the U.S. Amazon offices are white, while 20% are Asian, 8% are Black or African American, and 8% are Hispanic or Latinx. CEO Jeff Bezos has voiced his support for BLM, but activists suggest that his support is suspect when the company has “deep ties to policing,” according to The Guardian.
However, for employees at Amazon, the company offers 12 “affinity groups,” which are employee resource groups to bring Amazon employees together across business units and locations around the world. Groups include the Black Employee Network (BEN), Amazon Women in Engineering (AWE), Asians@Amazon, Latinos@Amazon, Indigenous@Amazon, and more. Amazon also highlights its collaboration with programs that “support underrepresented communities in tech by providing access to AWS credits and learning modules.” Amazon takes credit for the fact that its e-commerce platform has enabled small and midsize businesses to sell online, and notes that sometimes those companies are owned by BIPOC people. The company also claims that its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has enabled diverse voices to self-publish, but it’s hard to see how either of those platforms have been designed specifically to empower diverse entrepreneurs or voices.
Diverse employees at Amazon gave the company a score of 73 across culture categories, which puts Amazon in the top 20% of companies in the U.S. with 10,000 or more employees for diversity scores. At Amazon, 74% of women feel they are paid fairly, while 76% of diverse employees say the same. Women at Amazon gave the company an overall grade of A-, rating perks and benefits, team culture and future outlook highest. Diverse employees at Amazon gave the company an overall score of B+, rating team culture, future outlook and CEO rating as the top ranking categories.
Update: Amazon announced plans to double representation of Black VPs and directors in 2020 and 2021 with plans to tap into the organization’s internal skills development programs such as the Black Employee Network Executive Leadership Development Program, according to USA Today. Amazon has introduced required diversity and inclusion training globally for its employees. They’ve also removed non-inclusive language found on any documentation or software such as “blacklist,” “whitelist,” “master,” or “slave.” Amazon also appointed Alicia Boler Davis to its senior leadership team as vice president of global customer fulfillment. She’s the first Black executive and the fourth woman to join the company’s senior leadership team — prior to December 2019, Amazon only had one woman on its senior leadership team, according to CNN.
Slack is the smallest company on this list — falling into the category of companies with 500 to 1,000 employees. Slack isn’t as big as Google or Microsoft, but the company stands out for how it has publicly addressed D&I. Transparency is at the forefront of Slack’s D&I strategy, and the company doesn’t hold back in the workplace data it releases, using that data to reflect on how it needs to improve. For example, the company hired 624 new employees in 2019 but says it saw only “incremental increases for women in leadership roles (director level or above) and underrepresented minorities in U.S. technical and leadership roles” along with a decrease of women managers, women in technical roles and a decrease of underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ managers in the U.S. Slack sees this as a trend that it is “taking very seriously and actively addressing.”
BIPOC employees at Slack represent 14.5% of the U.S. technical organization; 12% of managers and 9.2% of the leadership team are BIPOC employees. Unlike other tech companies that have a tendency to lump statistics together, often including BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ+ workers in the same category, Slack breaks down diversity at every level and makes the statistics easy to understand. Slack says its annual report is an “opportunity to step back and critically evaluate” how they approach diversity and inclusion.
The company says it prefers to take a “holistic approach to building an inclusive and diverse company and culture” by expanding recruitment efforts, training managers to build trust and “manage inclusively,” and providing career development and mentorship opportunities to employees. Slack also partners with Year Up, which connects underserved young adults with career opportunities. To date, Slack has hired over 87% of its Year Up interns to full-time roles. It also launched a Slack for Good, which is an initiative directly aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented individuals in the tech industry and committed to creating “concrete initiatives advancing our belief that the benefits gained from technology can and should be more widely and democratically distributed.”
Update: Since the original publication date of this article, Slack has been acquired by Salesforce.com in a deal valued at $27.7 billion. How this acquisition will affect Slack’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is unclear at this juncture.
The article was originally published on Aug. 7, 2020, and was updated on Dec. 24, 2020, and most recently on Feb. 2, 2021.