by Sharon Florentine

Diversity in tech: New GAO report raises issue no one wants to address

Dec 08, 2017
IT JobsStaff ManagementTechnology Industry

A new report from the Government Accountability Office starkly illustrates the lack of diversity in tech. But who’s going to do anything about it?

woman faces multi cultural diversity
Credit: Thinkstock

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report details the lack of racial diversity among technology firms, particularly among black employees, according to a recent article from The Hill.

The report, commissioned by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), is one of the few government studies on the topic, but it does reinforce other research illustrating homogeneity in the tech workforce.

The statistics are, frankly, disgusting. No improvements, statistical or otherwise, have been made in the racial demographics of Silicon Valley — which should come as a surprise to no one.

The Hill article states:

Scott and other lawmakers including Democratic Reps. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.) argued during a press call on Thursday that there isn’t an issue in the availability of black workers ready to fill technology positions in Silicon Valley.

Scott pointed to statistics that show more equitable representation of black and Hispanic workers employed outside of the tech sector.

“If we did have a true shortage, other industries would show equally bad representation as the tech sector,” added William Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO and professor of economics at Howard University, who also spoke on the call.

But that’s not the case. Black and Hispanic/Latinx representation in industries outside the tech sector — which still aren’t great — are closer to representing the demographics of the U.S. population as a whole; even the demographics of computer science graduates are more diverse, according to the report.

The Hill article states:

A fact sheet accompanying the report noted that “Hispanic workers earned 10 percent, and black workers 7 percent, of bachelor’s and master’s in technology degrees, yet they represent only 5 percent or less of the professionals and mid-level managers in the leading technology companies.”

Scott, Lee and others blamed part of this on Silicon Valley’s “word of mouth” recruitment culture, which they say is reliant on employees at tech firms hiring new staff by staying within their networks.

“These networks may be largely comprised of the same race, and this practice, therefore, makes it harder for potential candidates from demographically different groups to have their résumés reviewed,” the GAO report explained.

In other words, people tend to associate with others who look like them. Hiring managers believe referrals from current employees make better hires. That means a lot of white people referring other white people — and the cycle continues.

Who is going to do anything about the racism and sexism in tech?

It’s great that there’s more research proving this point. But who in the hell is going to do anything about it?

Silicon Valley? Those companies can’t even successfully curb rampant sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia on their own platforms. (I’m looking at you, Twitter and Reddit.)

The current presidential administration? I’m sorry, I need to take a break and laugh bitterly until I cry. This administration has made it perfectly clear they’re not interested in addressing, let alone changing, their racist, sexist, white supremacist beliefs.

Current tech employees? Well, maybe, but considering women and people of color are punished for speaking up in favor of equality, that task would fall to (you guessed it) white males, who haven’t had the greatest track record in advocating for those outside their own demographic bubble.

So, while I’d like to believe that this increased awareness of the issues will spark some kind of “mea culpa,” I am well aware of the naiveté of that hope. Forgive me if I feel pessimistic (downright hopeless is more like it) about the chances of this systemic, institutionalized racism changing any time soon.