There’s been a lot of chatter within the tech industry about the need to expand diversity – both gender and racial – but at the end of the day, many tech companies treat workforce diversity as something that would just be “nice to have.” It’s a lot more than that.
Tech’s lack of diversity actually spells consequences for the industry every day, and puts tech companies in a precarious position going forward.
How much does lack of diversity cost tech? $16 billion per year. Unfair treatment in the workplace, much of it driven by gender or racial discrimination, is the single largest driver of employee turnover in the tech industry, and $16 billion represents this staff replacement cost. Among women, in fact, 41% of those who go into work as computer programmers will leave those jobs because of mistreatment or a hostile environment.
Therefore, the future of tech will require a more diverse workforce. The rapid expansion of the industry means that by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1.4 million open computer science-related positions and only 400,000 qualified candidates to fill them. The pipeline is far too small; not nearly enough people – enough women and minorities – are being encouraged and brought into the tech fold. This, of course, has a lot to do with tech’s reining image of being almost exclusively male and white (a whopping 95% of tech workers are white; 76% are men). But for every stride the tech community makes in expanding its gender and minority reach, good news follows.
According to CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux, properly implemented and successful diversity initiatives could net the industry an extra $400 billion in revenue every year. “Financially a one percentage point move toward representative diversity leads to a three-point increase in revenue,” Thibodeaux said. There are a number of reasons diversity leads to such a revenue increase – but there are multiple dimensions on this issue.
Although the U.S. workforce as a whole is approximately split half and half between men and women, men in tech outnumber women four to one. And troublingly, this statistic and the perception that goes with it seem to be discouraging women from pursuing STEM – female computer science graduates have decreased from 35% to 17% since 1985. The gender divide issue becomes even worse at levels of executive management – only five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. And non-white women make up, again, only five percent of senior and executive management positions in tech, and 4% of board seats.
Money talks, in this situation, as it always does: Women in STEM fields make an average of $16,000 less than their male counterparts, and black or Hispanic tech workers make $14,000 less. Only half of black or Hispanic students interested in tech are able to use a computer at home, as opposed to two-thirds of white students. Yet, a 2016 report from Google found that black and Hispanic students were 1.5 to 1.7 times more likely to have an interest in learning computer science.
The proportions of this issue clearly require proactive and even aggressive strategies to combat – workforce diversity should in fact be a concern at the top of any tech company HR’s list. But, many tech companies seem to be under the impression that increasing diversity among their staff is “hard.” “Companies still aren’t really making the big leaps,” says Alaina Percival, CEO of the organization Women Who Code.
The benefits of diversity, however, in addition to the increase in revenue stated earlier, are due to a nimbler, more innovative group of employees who are better able to relate to the changing demographics of the world at large. New research is showing that more diverse teams are better problem solvers and are more creative – and additionally, that greater workforce diversity bolsters employee engagement (a company’s profit can be defined by the potential of its employees multiplied by how engaged they are).
Still, for tech companies with representation that’s lagging behind, changing the paradigm can seem like a huge challenge.
HR at tech companies interested in getting ahead on diversity should consider incorporating the following strategies:
- Consider tying executive compensation to diversity goals. This is a major signal that your company is serious about its diversity efforts, and some of tech’s giants are doing the same – this strategy was part of a $300 million commitment Intel made to increasing diversity in 2015.
- Create a program specifically designed to sponsor and mentor female employees. IBM started a program for women who left the tech industry in order to recognize their contributions and provide support for them to come back.
- Formally address the fact that the diversity gap and the pay gaps exist and commit to being transparent about these discrepancies. This is one strategy used by Unilever Foundry in counseling forward-thinking startups.
- Invest in nonprofits that nurture the tech pipeline for both women and minorities, to help develop the tech leaders of tomorrow.
- Provide training programs that raise awareness about unconscious bias and communicating in more sensitive ways – 39% of female startup founders reported encountering sexism in a survey, and 82% said that to avoid looking uptight, they had let certain statements “slide.”
Again, increasing diversity is not just a philanthropic effort for the tech industry (or any industry, honestly) – it’s critical to its current and future success. Cultivating creativity and innovation is always worth the investment, it’s worth the effort, and in a changing world, it’s what determines who sinks or swims.
Vladimir Sidorenko is Founder and CEO of Performia CIS, an international personnel management consulting company. Created in 2001, they specialize in effective solutions to personnel problems and technology for hiring productive employees and contributing to higher profits for companies. Performia International is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden and Performia CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) is located is Moscow, Russia.
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