by Sharon Florentine

More diversity in tech means less talk, more action

May 04, 2017
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Yet another survey shows just how awful things are for women, POC and LGBTQ workers in Silicon Valley. Itu2019s time to stop researching this to death, start listening to underrepresented groups the first time and begin to actually fix the problem.

Data and analytics reinforce what women, people of color and the LGBTQ community have been saying for years: Tech has a problem with racism, sexism and bullying, and it’s driving people away. Ask anyone in tech — who’s not a cis-gendered, straight, white male — and they’ll tell you this is the case. But because we undervalue the voices of women, POC, LGBTQ and other underrepresented groups, we seem to listen only when their assertions are backed up by hard data. Well, here’s some more.

The Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll recently conducted a survey, the 2017 Tech Leavers Study, which is the first of its kind to focus specifically on the reasons people leave their tech industry jobs. Its findings weren’t surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. The Guardian reports:

One in 10 women in tech experience unwanted sexual attention, and nearly one in four people of color face stereotyping, according to the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 people who left tech jobs in the last three years.

The Kapor Center’s chief diversity and inclusion officer is Ellen Pao, who famously took on Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in an historic gender discrimination lawsuit in 2015. She lost, but in doing so brought much-needed attention to a problem that was continually dismissed or minimized or excused away by an industry more concerned with disruption, valuation and IPOs than human beings.

The Guardian quotes Pao as saying, “As someone who has been working in the tech industry since 1998, I know it’s prevalent, and now we have the data so people can understand the scale.”

The thing is, people know this is happening. They’ve known. They understand the scale. That’s not really the question, is it? The question is, what is being done about it? Not much, if the last 15 years are any indication. We have data. We have first-hand accounts. We have studies like The Elephant in the Valley, or Indeed’s diversity study and so many other studies and surveys and research that’s been done on this issue. It’s great that they’re out there, but they don’t help address the underlying issue, which, I believe, is two-fold. One: society is sexist, racist, homophobic and bigoted; and two: Silicon Valley doesn’t care as long as it’s making money.

As the Guardian article says, “Critics have increasingly argued that tech firms dedicated to ‘disruption’ are rejecting labor standards while male executives ignore complaints about discrimination and do little to fix systemic pay disparities.”

OK. Here’s the business case, as laid out in the article: “The authors of the report argued that the cost of this kind of unnecessary turnover due to workplace issues was immense. Based on estimates of average costs for replacing employees in tech jobs, the annual cost to tech companies for turnover due to unfairness could be $16 billion, according to the reported data. A large tech firm that pays 10,000 engineers an average of $100,000 [annually] could lose $27 million due to their workplace culture pushing employees out, the survey pointed out.”

That’s not even considering the negative publicity you’re getting. Or the difficulty you’ll have finding and retaining talent. That kind of turnover can impact the bottom-line very quickly.

There’s several recommendations at the end of the survey for organizations trying to address the problem. I’m not too picky about which argument sways you to stand up and act and which methods you employ to do so — just as long as you do it.

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