Do you think your company, and industry, for that matter, are diverse? I ask because I’m intrigued by the results of a recent survey of Silicon Valley tech workers, which found that 83 percent of the respondents said they believe their company is already diverse, and 79 percent think the average team at their company has a diverse set of team members.
Interestingly, there is a disconnect at play because the actual numbers in the industry, where 76 percent of the jobs are held by white and Asian men, tell a different story. Women, Hispanics and African-Americans make up 30 percent, six percent and three percent of employees in the top 75 Silicon Valley tech companies, respectively, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s worse than other industries. In non-tech firms in the area, women hold 49 percent of the jobs, Hispanics 22 hold percent of the jobs and African-Americans hold 24 percent of the jobs. Asian-Americans, who hold 41 percent of jobs in Silicon Valley’s top tech firms, make up 24 percent of the non-tech workforce.
“Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and women are so underrepresented that people have lost the ability to perceive what balance is,” Aubrey Blanche, the chief diversity officer for team collaboration software company Atlassian, says in a report about the results of the company’s survey of nearly 1,500 Silicon Valley tech workers questioned about diversity in the workplace. “Despite good intentions to support diversity, when it comes to looking at what’s happening within their own companies, half of employees think everything is fine and no improvements need to be made on gender, race and other key areas—despite a mounting pile of evidence that tech is very much not a meritocracy.”
Among the top reasons that tech workers gave for giving their companies passing grades on diversity are that 60 percent of the respondents said their company was making an effort, even though they gave no indication of concrete action that company had taken, commenting: “I feel they can do more, but they are trying. So, can’t knock them for it.”
Another challenge for diversity advocates is that there is a misperception by some people that the lack of diversity in tech can be chalked up to a “pipeline” problem. That is, they believe too few women and minorities are becoming software engineers or entering the industry.
“The tech industry has developed this myth about its own meritocracy to justify homogeneity and pattern matching when funding deals and making hiring decisions, but the more you believe your system is a meritocracy, the more likely the system is to be biased and discriminatory,” Blanche writes in the report. “While people may be well-intentioned, we clearly have a way to go in educating workers on ‘what diversity means and looks like’ to help them identify areas of improvement within their own companies.”
The seriousness of a lack of diversity is more apparent when considering research reported on in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States which shows the introduction of people who are demographically different within a group makes both individuals and groups more innovative and increases their performance. Another problem is that diversity reports tend to focus on numbers at the company level, which reveal little about the actual level of collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas happening between members of different demographic groups, an article in Scientific American explains.
“Evaluating diversity at the corporate level is a good first step, but it doesn’t paint a clear enough picture,” says Mike Cannon-Brookes, Atlassian’s co-founder and co-CEO. ”True genius happens when people with different experiences come together to tackle tough challenges. That’s why teams–not just companies–need to be diverse and inclusive for the most meaningful business impact to occur.”
What are your thoughts on diversity? Do you think your company is diverse? What about teams or departments, are they diverse?