CXO

Here's the real reason tech companies fail to hire more minorities

As Apple's latest diversity report revealed, large tech companies are not making significant gains when it comes to hiring minorities. Here's why.

Apple's new diversity report, out last week, highlighted a sad fact: Underrepresented minorities employed at the company grew from just 19% in 2014 to 23% in 2017. While the tech giant claims that 50% of its new hires in the US this year were from historically underrepresented groups in tech, the meager results mirror the industry at large.

The numbers for all employees break down as follows: 21% of Apple employees are Asian, 9% are black, 13% are hispanic, and 3% are multiracial. Some 54% are white. Women only make up 23% of workers in tech roles, and 32% of employees overall, according to Apple.

The report highlights a continuing tech industry problem: Despite funnelling millions of dollars into diversity initiatives, tech still employs a larger share of whites, Asian Americans, and men, compared to the overall private industry, and a smaller share of African Americans, hispanics, and women, according to data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

SEE: How CXOs can develop a diverse workforce (Tech Pro Research)

An upcoming CompTIA diversity study compared the tech industry with others in terms of workplace diversity, and echoed these findings. But interestingly, when asked if they currently work or have worked in a department or on a team that is highly diverse, the vast majority said that they have.

"People think they're all working in these wildly diverse organizations, but the numbers just do not add up," said Carolyn April, CompTIA senior director of industry analysis. "It's a sort of a psychological mindset I think that people have, that doesn't really veer out by the hard facts."

The framing of the problem itself is often an issue, said Allison Scott, chief research officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact. "In K-12 education through job retention, there are series of biases, barriers, and disadvantages that affect women and people of color that lead to the numbers we see," Scott said. "If you think about it from that perspective, just doing some unconscious bias training is not going to change the trends of the tech workforce."

It's difficult to address diversity in one bucket, because "the diversity problems of each race are different," said Buck Gee, an executive advisor at the nonprofit Ascend. "In Silicon Valley for blacks and Hispanics, the basic problem is getting in the door. The problem with Asian Americans in Silicon Valley is upper mobility to management. You need different strategies for each race, and you can't just throw it in as a diversity program, because not all diversity programs are apt for all the races or genders."

The lack of diverse hiring is usually not malicious, Gee said. "By and large, the executives I've dealt with in Silicon Valley and tech all want to do the right thing," he added. "I don't believe there's an attempt to not be diverse. They're so busy in their day to day priorities of hitting the numbers and running the business that unless there's somebody inside the company pushing this and making it priority, it doesn't get enough attention."

Leadership issues

Whites are also represented at a higher rate in the executives category, at 83%—more than 15% higher than their representation in the professionals category, which includes jobs like computer programming, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other groups, including African Americans, hispanics, Asian Americans, and women, were represented at significantly lower rates in the executive category.

Though Asians are overrepresented in terms of the entry-level workforce, they are among the least likely to be promoted into leadership positions, according to a recent report from Ascend, co-authored by Gee.

The report examined data collected by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 2007 and 2015, from technology companies in the San Francisco and San Jose areas.

SEE: Tips for building and advancing your leadership career (free PDF)

"When you look at the gains by gender, almost all the significant gains were made by white women," Gee said. "Blacks, hispanics, and Asian women made very little gains in that period of time." Indeed, the data show that in that timeframe, representation of white women in tech leadership roles improved by 17%, while that of all other minority groups went down.

Asian women are the most likely to be left behind when it comes to promotions, due to in part to a lack of role models at the top. "Because there are so few Asians at the top in leadership positions, people just don't see themselves necessarily as being able to break through," said Denise Peck, an executive advisor and co-author of the report.

There is also a gap in behavioral expectations for leaders, Peck said. "How one shows up, how one talks, how one debates, how one influences—there could be Asian cultural values that lead to behavior that are inconsistent with the expectation of Western leadership archetype models," she added.

Recruiting and inclusion

A number of studies have touted the benefits of diversity from a problem-solving and innovation standpoint. There is also a financial incentive: If properly implemented, diversity efforts could net the IT industry an extra $400 billion in revenue each year, according to CompTIA.

"There are a number of job roles whose job output would be vastly superior and accessible to more customers if they were designed by times that were diverse in race, background, gender, use cases, and so on," Peck said. "Products that are designed uniquely by one background may not have the potential to reach other customers, and that's a loss to the company."

However, many companies claim to have difficulties finding a pipeline of diverse talent.

"The natural tendency is to go for the low-hanging fruit, which is to ask your buddies if they know somebody who is looking for a job," said Randolph Carnegie, managing director of Ken-Kor Consulting. "When you start bringing in minorities, you have to step outside your comfort zone to do the recruiting. You have to have a reason why you want to do this. And I think most people by default are looking for the fastest way to fill a slot."

Broadening the applicant pool beyond tech hubs and the most prestigious schools will help you find more diverse talent, Scott said. Looking to recruit from historically black colleges and universities and tribal universities may be one place to start, she added.

Once you hire a broader range of applicants, you must make sure your environment is inclusive, April said.

"There's a very high rate of attrition among minorities and women in some of these tech companies," April said. "They may get hired, but then they leave prematurely, because once they're in the environment, it is not inclusive or it's hostile. They just do not feel welcome."

Indeed, unfair treatment in the workplace is the single largest driver of turnover in the tech industry, costing companies more than $16 billion per year in employee replacement costs, according to a recent study from the Kapor Center for Social Impact examining why people leave tech jobs. It was named more frequently than actively seeking a better opportunity, dissatisfaction with the work environment, being recruited away, or dissatisfaction with their job duties/responsibilities.

The Kapor Center's research found that when companies had all five of the following practices in place, women and people of color were less likely to leave their tech jobs:

-A diversity and inclusion manager on staff

-Explicit goals around diversity

-Employee resource groups

-Referral bonuses for diverse candidates

-Unconscious bias training

"Companies need to be paying attention to their cultures," Scott said. "They have to understand the entirety of the problem. Spending lots of money on unconscious bias training for the C-suite alone is not going to move the needle."

istock-681735120.jpg
Image: iStockphoto/Vadim_Key

Also see

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox