Diversity in Tech: Nearly 70% of Tech Employees Have Felt Uncomfortable at Work Because of Their Identity

diversity in tech and MBA allyship

Elevated by an emotionally charged two years that sparked heightened national awareness about race in the U.S., companies are spending more money than ever before on diversity and inclusion training, an estimated $8 billion a year.

But is that enough to truly ensure businesses are more inclusive?

Leaders and early career professionals in the technology industry, say “no.”

According to the recently released, Diversity in Tech: 2021 U.S. Report:

  • Only 30% of the tech workforce identifies as Black, Asian or Hispanic
  • Gender diversity is only 25% [female] compared to 47% for all other industries
  • 70% of the more than 270 business tech leaders surveyed acknowledge a lack of diversity at tech firms
  • 68% of the 2,000+ early career tech employees surveyed said they have felt uncomfortable in their jobs because of their gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or neurodevelopmental condition

The professionals interviewed for the survey, which was commissioned by Wiley, work in key industries, including financial services, insurance, and healthcare.

“We are past the point of throwing money at PR and marketing collateral to make companies appear diverse and inclusive and are now accepting the fact that the companies themselves need to change,” says Lorena Soriano, founder of every POINT ONE, which helps science and tech companies create inclusive and unbiased practices throughout their organization.

Why is diversity imperative in the tech industry?

Diversity in the technology industry is even more crucial these days because tech products impact almost every aspect of our lives– helping us decide everything from where we eat to how we entertain ourselves.

This in turn can affect how we see ourselves.

“Firms lacking diversity are more likely to fall prey to groupthink or groupview and miss how their work impacts those not in their peer group,” explains Soriano. “We’ve seen this in default settings for Instagram where the “beauty” filter equates to lighter skin, or where Home Appraisal agents waive responsibility because their algorithm is what determines that Black owned homes are worth less. 

Low diversity in tech firms means that perspectives that should be normalized and incorporated are treated as edge cases.”

Soriano has personally experienced these obstacles as one of a few, and sometimes the only, Spanish-speaking employee at previous jobs.

“The lack of diversity wasn’t just seen in the company photo,” says Soriano. “but in how so many groups were an after-thought in the product design.”

So, what are tech companies doing wrong?

Diversity recruiters suggest that a “one-dimensional perspective” when it comes to diverse talent is still too common.

“Some firms seem to view diversity recruiting with a narrow lens or are quick to blame low diversity numbers on a pipeline problem — even though that is not the mindset they would likely adopt for other critical business issues,” explains Lizzie Ann Jones, a tech influencer and former Fortune 500 tech recruiter who supports early-career BIPOC women in tech.

Soriano agrees, adding that some organizations “think of “inclusivity” as simply hiring more women or people from traditionally underrepresented groups.

This can lead to companies spending a lot of energy recruiting one diverse identity but not others, for example, trying to attract only women instead of also seeking out other minority groups.

“This a flawed definition [of inclusivity] that misses the crux of the issue,” Soriano says.

How can they fix it?

For tech organizations to become more inviting and inclusive, diversity recruiters say they must implement comprehensive changes to not only their recruitment practices but employee engagement efforts, as well.

Here are a few other techniques that can aid in creating a more diverse tech workforce.

Update hiring practices

Companies should take a close look at their hiring practices and consider how to make them less biased. Jones suggests incorporating techniques, such as blind resumes, blind assessments, and standardized questionnaires for candidates to increase the likelihood that talent from various backgrounds will enter at a level playing field.

Nearly half (45%) of businesses surveyed in the Diversity in Tech report have yet to invest in anti-bias training for their hiring managers, which leaves more opportunity for potential employees to possibly be unfairly judged – however unintentionally – at the interview stage.

Think more than entry-level

“There’s a push for diverse individuals at the entry-level but low momentum for diversity in senior leader positions,” says Jones.

Actively recruiting candidates at all levels within companies, not just the lower-salaried positions, can drastically change the employee makeup for the better.

Empower existing diverse employees

Creating a more inclusive culture is important, so that existing employees of all backgrounds feel heard and supported. A good place to start is through affinity and ally groups, Jones says.

“It is important for leaders at firms to model inclusive behavior by encouraging and embracing diverse individuals to share their perspective,” Jones says. “Not only does this signal the importance of diverse viewpoints, but it also affirms diverse employees on the unique skill set they can bring to and organization.”

Focus on retaining diverse employees

Tech firms should also focus on the big picture and make sure they spend as much effort retaining diverse employees as they do recruiting them.

This requires business leaders to frequently ask themselves “what are we doing to ensure we’re retaining this diverse talent?”

And it doesn’t stop there.

“Are we also making sure our product is accessible, diverse, designed and built in an ethical manner?” Soriano questions. “Organizations do better by incorporating change at all levels, not just in their public-facing operations.”

As an MBA grad, how can you break down barriers?

Soriano suggests being an ally and demanding change. She adds:

“Before looking for a job decide on 3-5 non-negotiable items regarding social responsibility in the workplace. For example, you won’t take a job if a company doesn’t: practice equal pay, have a certain percentage of women in technical roles (v. admin), support and provide resources to ERG groups, have a certain percentage of females in the C-suite or the board, or audit their products in development for bias.

Once you decide your non-negotiables, let the recruiters and interviewers know what’s important to you.

When companies start to notice this as a trend with applicants, it works its way up the corporate ladder to become something that needs to be addressed and improvements planned. 

As an MBA, you are the top talent companies look for and you can use your leverage for good before you even walk in the door.”

diversity in tech and MBA allyship

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About the author

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Shernay is a mom, entrepreneur, and lifelong learner who's been fortunate to spend her entire professional career telling stories. She has more than a decade of experience as a TV, print, and radio journalist for local and national news outlets. In 2016, she launched a content firm to help nonprofits and businesses tell their stories more strategically. Her passions: mom empowerment, entrepreneurship, and self-development.

She lives outside of Baltimore with her two sons.

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