Illustration: Ashley Siebels
America’s big technology companies have struggled with hiring more diverse staff in recent years. Facebook offers regular updates on its search for a more diverse workforce, despite little visible progress. Google too, reveals the results of its efforts to hire employees from different backgrounds (although it, too, has far to go) — “to change how we all see the world,” as Fortune Magazine put it.
A persistent question plagued the tech companies that drove innovation, but not diversity. Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have become more diverse — why can’t Silicon Valley?
A study today provides the answer: Silicon Valley isn’t diverse because the people who work there don’t think it needs to be.
Design and collaboration software company Atlassian released their 2017 State of Diversity Report highlighting the attitudes of more than 1,400 tech workers in the United States to see how far they think their industry is faring in terms of inclusion.
The results hold some surprises.
Why is diversity necessary?
While diversity is often considered a “nice to have” in hiring, there are key business reasons that it should be a priority.
The main reason: studies show that diversity among employees breaks up groupthink, the complacency and sameness that makes companies stagnant.
Diverse teams perform better, for instance: the more varied a company’s workforce in race and gender, the higher its revenues and profits. Companies with more women on the board also deliver better financially. Similarly, studies show that teams with more women outperform on financial measures.
A 2015 McKinsey report said that after reviewing “proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries” in various parts of the world, researchers found that businesses “in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”
The theme of multiple studies is clear: diversity challenges teams to think differently, and that makes for good business.
Unlike their CEOs, tech workers think diversity is where it should be
Yet in Silicon Valley, talk about diversity has not matched action, according to Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion.
Atlassian found that tech workers weren’t too bothered about getting teams with a range of races, genders, or sexual orientations.
“Roughly 94% of respondents gave the tech industry, their companies and their teams a passing grade for diversity,” choosing reasons such as the fact that their company is “at least making an effort,” “already has great diversity,” that “their company is a meritocracy” with equal treatment, and that where they work is “an inclusive culture that’s welcoming to everyone.”
“In a nutshell, the data shows we’ve been effective at raising awareness, but not at deepening understanding of fundamental problems and ways to resolve them,” Blanche wrote in a statement.
The 2016 US presidential election reportedly had an impact on how tech workers feel about diversity: it made them think about it more, but action is still rare.
A whopping 83% of respondents also said that diversity and inclusion is “important or very important.”
Forty-eight percent reported that it made them “care more” about having people from a variety of backgrounds in the office.
But only 23% have actually “taken action in terms of diversity,” or done something about it since the event, including tasks like listening to coworkers’ perspectives, having conversations with leaders about stepping it up in terms of diversity, changing their thinking about others, and taking part in a conversation about inclusion in tech.
The numbers on tech diversity
Women and ethnic or racial minorities are underrepresented in tech compared to the larger population of professional workers.
A 2016 report by the National Center for Women & Information Technology said that women filled 57% of professional jobs in 2015, but just “25% of all computing occupations.”
But it got worse in terms of how many of them were women of color.
Referring to the same fact, the same 2016 report said that “Latinas and Black women hold only 1% and 3% of these jobs, respectively.”
Big winners are less likely to change their ways
Howard Scott Warshaw wrote about why the idea of inclusion in Silicon Valley is often romanticized. In a LinkedIn post, Warshaw said people rushed to develop their ideas in Silicon Valley in the late 20th century, which made it a gold rush — and ensured that nearly everyone would be very, very similar.
“This gave Silicon Valley the illusion of tremendous diversity, but it’s actually one of the least diverse places on earth. It’s a frenzy of gifted and aggressively motivated people converging on one small peninsula to seek their fortune, squeezing out everyone with less drive or means or potential,” Warshaw wrote.