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Diversity in Tech: Admitting We Have A Problem

Back in December, we shared an introduction to gender equality with the promise that we’d elaborate more on this topic in the future, looking in particular at how these issues affect the tech industry. We are delivering on that promise right now.

Unfortunately, the industry we work in has developed a reputation for a lack of both ethnic and gender diversity. Considering women hold only 25% of computing and IT jobs, it seems like a reputation that’s justified. It’s also one that everyone in the industry needs to participate in changing.

If the road to fixing the issue of diversity in STEM careers were a twelve-step program, it would begin the same way as any other: Admitting we (the tech industry) have a problem. Like any issue, you can’t make steps toward correcting it until you acknowledge and understand what that problem is and where it comes from.

Some members of the tech community are more open to this than others. In the past year, several tech giants released diversity reports highlighting the work that still needs to be done. Forbes reported on the diversity reports, noting that Pandora was the most diverse overall, as far as gender, out of the 14 major tech companies they included. With a team that’s 49% women, Pandora appears to have virtual equality. Compared to Intel, the least diverse of the 14 with only 23% women, those numbers sound pretty good.

However, when you dig deeper and look at the diversity in leadership roles and technical positions the disparity becomes more prominent. Numbers for this information was apparently not available from Pandora, so let’s look at Indiegogo, the second most diverse company overall (55% men, 45% women). Their leadership team consists of 57% men and 43% women and their technical employees are a whopping 67%. Remember, that’s the most diverse.

The least diverse leadership team comes from Cisco, with only 19% women. For technical workers, Twitter wins the award for Least Diverse Technical Team with an embarrassing 10% of their team being women.

The reports for ethnic diversity are even more dismal. Each company studied had a team that was at least 60% white. Indiegogo, our most gender diverse company, is about 85% white. Once again, these numbers worsen when we look at leadership and technical positions. For example, only 4% of technical workers at Airbnb are black or Hispanic.

Hopefully, I don’t have to explain why this is a problem, but I’ll do it anyway just in case. First of all, regardless of how this problem has occurred (pipeline or retention, we’ll get into that another time), the fact that so many of these great, rewarding, high paying jobs are consistently going mostly to white men should be a concern to everyone. Regardless of whether this is occurring because not enough women and/or ethnic minorities are entering the field or not enough are staying in it, it’s a problem of ethics and equality and we need to work harder to find solutions.

Besides the fact that working toward a more diverse tech industry is the right thing to do (which it is) it’s also the smart thing to do. Creating a more diverse workplace brings about more diversity of thought, more creativity, and more answers. A team of people with different experiences and insights is naturally going to produce a wider range of ideas, which will lead to the best possible solution.

Plus, companies with more women in leadership positions make more money. According to Entrepreneur, startups with more female executives are more likely to succeed, and VC firms that back female founders make more money.

Regardless of motive, it’s clearly time for this industry to become more diverse and inclusive. In the next segment, we’ll dive into the reasons for a lack of diversity and some steps we can take to change it.

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