Tech industry talks of boosting diversity, but there’s little improvement

More hopefully, we observed a rapid growth in diversity of the technical labour force in two types of firms.

In both, the percentage of white men declined by about a quarter. In the larger of these two groups, about 7 per cent of tech sector firms, white male professionals were primarily replaced with white and Asian women, although Hispanic and Black men and women saw gains as well.

The second group of firms was smaller, representing only 2 per cent of tech firms. In these, white men were replaced by Asian men and Asian women, while all other groups declined as well.

We found similar patterns at the managerial and executive levels. Most firms showed little change, but there were small groups with rapid increases in diversity, and others with rapid decreases.

White male executives declined across the sector by 5.9 per cent, and we discovered significant increases in the representation of all other groups, even Hispanic women, in the top jobs.

It appears that the most common tech response to the pressure to increase diversity was to move more women and minorities into executive positions. This pattern has been described in previous research as being primarily a defensive response to diversity demands rather than a commitment to promoting employment diversity.

When do firms become more inclusive?

We also wanted to figure out which types of firms showed a pattern of rapidly increased diversity. Here we have two more hopeful findings.

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Firms where professional diversity was growing rapidly also tended to be among those with rapid overall employment growth. Diversity looks to be good for business – or perhaps innovative, well-run businesses are better at hiring more diverse labour forces.

We wondered whether increased diversity among managers who do the hiring and executives who set the tone was associated with having a rapidly diversifying professional labour force. Here we found that those firms with strong increases in managerial diversity also tended to embrace strong increases in professional diversity.

In contrast, strong increases in executive diversity did not reliably raise the chances that a firm would have strong diversity growth among its core professional labour force.

Window dressing or diversity now?

It looks to us as though the recipe for increasing diversity in the tech sector is at least in part to increase diversity at the managerial level. It also looks like increased diversity is good for business, although it is also possible that well-run firms hire more diverse labour forces.

Unfortunately, this combination is not widespread. Dramatic improvements in employment diversity are confined to only 10 per cent of firms.

We believe that most of the technology industry is stuck in a low-inclusion rut, and a disturbing set of firms are moving backward. However, a handful of firms demonstrate that diversity is possible now.


This article was written by Donald T. Tomaskovic-Devey, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Employment Equity, UMass Amherst and JooHee Han, Postdoctoral Fellow in Sociology, University of Oslo. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

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