5 tips for reducing turnover in tech

Sexual harassment, bullying, and stereotyping are some of the main reasons that underrepresented groups surveyed report leaving their tech jobs. Learn five ways to increase retention rates.

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Image: iStockphoto/twinsterphoto

Company culture has a big influence on employees and their decision to stay with an employer, especially in the case of underrepresented groups like women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals. According to the authors of a 2017 report by the Kapor Center for Social Impact (PDF):

"Unfairness, in the form of everyday behavior (stereotyping, harassment, bullying, racial bias, and so on) is a real and destructive part of the tech work environment, particularly affecting underrepresented groups and driving talent out the door."

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving workplace diversity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The report's authors state that this unfairness-based turnover in tech is creating a $16B per year problem. For each person who leaves a tech job, companies lose an average of $144,000 per employee for full replacement costs (lost productivity, recruiting costs, salary, etc.)—and that does not include the reputational costs to companies that fall into this category. The report includes a survey of former tech employees—35% said their experiences would make them less likely to refer others to jobs at their former company, and 25% said they would be less likely to recommend others buy or use products or services from these former employers.

Surveyed employees cited "unfair treatment" most frequently (37%) as their reason for leaving. According to the report's authors, surveyed employees were twice as likely to leave due to unfair treatment rather than being recruited by a different employer. These negative experiences, along with a lack of career and financial advancement, are all linked to higher turnover.

SEE: Recruiting and hiring top talent: A guide for business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The report found that men of color were most likely to leave due to unfairness (40%), at a rate slightly higher than White and Asian men (39%). Women of color were more likely to cite unfairness as a major reason for leaving (36%) than White and Asian women (28%).

Employees of tech companies experienced significantly more unfairness compared to employees in non-tech companies, according to the report. Nearly 25% of men and women of color surveyed reported experiencing stereotyping—twice the rate of White and Asian men and women. Almost one-third of women of color surveyed were passed over for promotions, which is more than any other group.

Bullying in the workplace is also correlated with the length of employment—higher rates of stereotyping and bullying is associated with shorter lengths of employment. According to the report, LGBT employees were most likely to be bullied (20%) and experience public humiliation or embarrassment (24%), while White and Asian men and women were most likely to perceive unfairness in management practices and leadership.

How can companies improve company culture and increase retention?

The authors of the report offer five recommendations for implementing a comprehensive diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy to help increase retention rates:

  • Have a D&I director;
  • Set explicit diversity goals;
  • Pay bonuses for employee referrals of candidates from underrepresented backgrounds;
  • Conduct unconscious bias training; and
  • Establish Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

By using all five D&I initiatives, the report found that overall experiences of unfairness and mistreatment were significantly lower; sexual harassment, bullying, and stereotyping were significantly lower; and employees were significantly less likely to leave due to unfairness or mistreatment.

SEE: Hiring kit: Chief diversity officer (Tech Pro Research)

62% of employees surveyed said that they would have stayed if their company had taken steps to create a more positive and respectful work environment, and underrepresented people of color were significantly more likely to stay if the culture became more fair and inclusive, when compared to White/Asian employees. According to the authors of the report, D&I initiatives "did not decrease unfair people management practices, in the form of promotions, job assignments, and related day-to-day work, suggesting that alternative interventions to specifically address management training and practices are needed."

Improving management practices is an important step in reducing turnover, starting at the top—unfair experiences were perpetrated by senior-level employees significantly more than junior, mid-, or executive-level employees, according to the report. Additionally, 69% of surveyed employees said they would have stayed with their company had they witnessed an improvement in the effectiveness of management and leadership.

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