Diversity in the Tech Industry — What Can We Do To Help?

Some of the Josh.ai team in LA — clockwise from top Casey, Dylan, Nader, Jason, Saina, and Bridget — and of course Henry.

Diversity, which has been a buzzword the last few years, is something that many startups and tech companies have been embracing. Here at Josh.ai, diversity is particularly important as a smart home manufacturer. Some homes are occupied by a bachelor, a couple, or a whole family. You might find multi-generational households, some with family that has immigrated from another country where English might not be as fluent, with families of different races and ethnicities. Diversity within our organization helps us to consider and build for all these use cases.

When programming for voice commands, it’s easy to forget about higher pitched or lower pitched voices, or how people from different areas use different verbiage when controlling their devices. If we want to be able to represent our clients, it’s important that we build a diverse work force that understands how varied households — and the world — can be.

We strongly believe in having an open and diverse environment for our team, but we also acknowledge the difficulty in building that diversity within our own organization. Why are tech companies struggling with having and maintaining a diverse team?

Multiple reports have shown that having a diverse environment can help foster a more open atmosphere, which leads to more creativity and higher revenue. Having a workforce with people of various sexes, backgrounds, and ethnicities isn’t just an issue for the executives, but one for every level.

There are ways that many companies are diversifying their team, and we thought it would be valuable to examine how that is happening. First, let’s take a look at some of the stats around diversity in the tech industry.

Women in control

Woman consist of about half of the US population, yet they only make up about 36% of tech employees. Since woman make about 70% of the buying decisions, that should be great incentive for more women to be included in the development of such products. Also, companies with women in 50% or more of leadership positions tend to see higher growth in sales and earnings per share and a higher return on assets.

There are the older stereotypes that get thrown around about women being too emotional or are so invested in their family lives that they cannot step up and be fully focused with their responsibilities at work. We know this is not the case and more women are being seen as equals and are being offered leadership roles.

According to the Annual Corporate Director’s Survey in 2017, most S&P 500 companies had at least one woman on their board, and 25% had two or more. Studies have found that without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight White men to win endorsement for their ideas. This can be frustrating when women have to deal with being interrupted, dismissed, or ignored. There is also the issue of woman pitching an idea and having it turned down, only to have a man give the same or a similar idea and it being received with praise.

When women don’t feel like they are being listened to, it impacts their work life beyond that encounter. It can lead to feeling invisible and decrease the possibility of growth within the company. The Center for Talent Innovation worked on a study where they found that 27% of women in tech feel stalled in their careers and 32% are likely to quit within one year; 48% of Black women in tech feel stalled. This makes it hard for many women to feel like their work is being seen and valued compared to their male counterpart.

Mentors are usually a great way to learn and grow in your career. Having someone who can sympathize with what you are experiencing and has expert knowledge of the industry is a major game changer. A 2008 survey found, though, even the value mentors bring differ between the sexes. On average, the benefit women receive from mentors amounts to advice and guidance, while men receive actual endorsements from their mentor and concrete steps for them to get to the next level in their career.

People of Color (POC) in the tech landscape

POC face many obstacles when it comes to working in tech. Everything from getting their foot in the door, getting paid the same, or getting into leadership roles. Underrepresented groups are working to have a seat at this hypothetical table. For instance, Black and Latino students major in Computer Science at a higher rate, yet the number of Black and Latino workers at tech companies are decreasing.

Usually when discussing being paid less for doing the same role, the discussion is centered around gender. Yet, Latino men and women make less than any other group. Latinos make up 8% of tech employees, with Latino men making 15% less than White men and Latino women making up to 33% less than White men.

Black employees, on average, represent 2–3% of the workforce at companies like Facebook, Google, and other tech giants. When surveyed, Black workers have expressed the feeling of isolation and not feeling completely accepted (one Facebook employee likened his experience to that of the film ‘Get Out’). Black employees make up 7% of all tech employees which is half the amount in the private sector.

Other race groups face struggles of their own. For example, there are a high number of Asian employees in the tech industry, but they have to deal with different hurdles than their Black and Latino peers. They are less likely to be promoted into leadership roles, coming from odious stereotypes of Asians being more docile or soft spoken. The Asian diaspora is very multifaceted, and includes many different languages and cultures. Yet, they are still seen through a narrow lens that can hinder career growth.

Bridging the gap for LGBT Workers

At least 10 million people in the US identify as a member of the LGBT community, and that number continues to grow every year. The tech industry is making strides to be more inclusive, including enforcing protocols to hire and retain LGBT employees, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. There are new stories everyday about the hardships of navigating in a mostly straight male community.

Unlike statistics about women and people of color in tech, there has not been as much research around LGBT workers in the tech work force. At least 4% of the U.S. work force consist of LGBT workers, and out of that small percentage, 21% have reported being discriminated against when it comes to hiring, promotions, and pay. Similar to women and POC in the work place, LGBT workers are still struggling to make as much money, earning $0.68 for every dollar a straight White male earns.

In addition to traditional sexism, many women who identify as LGBT experience crude remarks that male employees make at their expense. For example, Geek Wire reported that one female developer, as she was training colleagues, heard remarks such as “you should be more open-minded about having sex with men.” These sorts of comments can make LGBT workers feel unsafe and objectified. At the same time, they are too scared to report to management, which further alienates them from their colleagues.

Prominent LGBT leaders, such as Tim Cook, who publicly stated “I’m proud to be gay,” Marc Benioff, and Megan Smith, are using their influence to advocate against the discrimination LGBT workers face on a regular basis. Even with new anti-discrimination laws being passed, there a stories of unfair treatment that boil down to tech company culture. To counter this culture, LGBT groups are forming in tech companies, and companies are incorporating more inclusive language, not only when discussing the workers, but also customers.

Call to Action

Acknowledging the issues with diversity in tech is one thing, but what can we do as an industry to engage underrepresented groups? Hiring managers point to the ‘pipeline problem,’ which claims that there are not enough women, POC, members of the LGBT community, vets and members of other minority groups that are qualified.

That fallacy does not hold up — look at how many women and POC study STEM in college, for example. One of the issues is not just getting the talent, but that underrepresented people are leaving the tech industry faster than they are coming in. There are steps to be taken to make sure that companies are truly embracing diversity.

  1. Closing the pay gap and room for advancement is one way to gain and keep a diverse workforce. Are organizations offering pay raises at the same rate across the board? The answer might shock you — it’s a no. Women and POC in tech make $14,000-$16,000 less than their White male coworkers. One way to combat the gap is to do pay equity audits. Another technique to close the pay gap is to hire or promote LGBT workers, women, and POC into managerial or executive roles. With more minorities in leadership roles they will be able to advocate for the other minorities on the team and fight unconscious biases.
  2. Resource groups for underrepresented workers to network is another way to promote a diverse company culture, such as groups like Lesbians Who Tech and GLEAM. There are different groups for vets, people living with disabilities, and different nationalities. Having a safe place where people feel encouraged and listened to can empower tech employees.
  3. Actively listening to and acknowledging ideas from underrepresented workers can go a long way. Without having diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely to have their ideas endorsed and green-lighted compared to their White male coworkers; the number are similar for LGBT workers (21%) and POC (24%). Making an effort to listen and acknowledge ideas that have been presented gives underrepresented employees higher visibility. Having higher visibility is a great stepping stone for employees to make waves in the company and increase their chances of getting promoted.

As a society we are moving in the right direction when it comes to having a diverse work environment. Companies, such as Pintrest and 23andMe, are working to make sure more women and POC hold management roles. Research shows that the tech industry’s bottom line can benefit from investing in diversity, with up to $400B in additional revenue.

A company that reflects the world we live in, including being more aware of unconscious bias about age, gender, race, or sexual orientation, opens the door for new ideas. Innovation is not just about building new technology. It’s also about changing how we think and push others to think. Diversity helps to drive this innovation, and it is something we will all benefit from, now and in the future.

This article was written by Saina at Josh.ai, where she works on the business development team. She received her BS in Mass Communication from St. Cloud State University in Central Minnesota. When she is not working, she is traveling, looking for new thrills and experiences.

Josh.ai is an artificial intelligence agent for your home. If you’re interested in learning more, visit us at https://josh.ai.

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