Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why Diversity Reports by Tech Companies Problematic

A recently published article on Gizmodo says that diversity reports by tech companies are misleading, for these contain “significant, quantifiable discrepancies—in workforce diversity, in gender equity among people of color, and in representation among top leadership.”

The problem with these reports is that, one – they do not show the real score, the article said. Even the industry’s annual annual diversity reports, a crucial step towards transparency, can hide vital information and nuance.

For example, in filing their EEO-1, or the Employer Information Report -- a required document to be submitted to the EEOC and the Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs – companies use raw numbers to describe their workforce profile in terms of race, gender, and employee classification.

In their self-reported diversity data, however, only percentages are used, which do not really depict a clear demographic data of their organizations.

At the same time, an analysis by Gizmodo of the combined EEO-1s and the diversity reports of each of these 6 leading tech companies in the country – Airbnb, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Yahoo - reveals a still predominantly white, Asian workforce, not reflective of the US demography which consists of 72 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic, 12.6 percent black, 4.8 percent Asian,
despite these companies' avowal to improve their respective workforce diversity.

The ethnic or race diversity of each of these companies in 2015 showed the following:
Airbnb: 48% White, 43% Asian, 3% Hispanic, 1% Black and 5% Other (Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and non-disclosed race)
Facebook: 51% White, 43% Asian, 3% Hispanic, 1% Black and 2% Other
Microsoft: 55% White, 36% Asian, 4% Hispanic, 2% Black and 3% Other
Google: 59% White, 35% Asian, 2% Hispanic, 1% Black and 3% Other
Apple: 59% White, 25% Asian, 8% Hispanic, 7% Black and 1% Other
Yahoo: 61% White, 31% Asian, 3% Hispanic, 1% Black and 4% Other

Asians/Asian Americans in Tech Industry

A quick look at the figures above show the odds seem to be in favor of Asian Americans, but some think they are still discriminated against, according to a report by the Christian Science Monitor.
While Asians are well-represented in the tech industry, the representation doesn’t extend to the executive level, a phenomena that applies to other minority groups as well. A study released May 2015 by Ascend, a pan-Asian organization of business professionals in North America, found that while Asians represent 27.2 percent of the professional workforce for tech giants Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn and Yahoo, only 13.9 percent of them are executives.

This situation in fact was also reported last year – that Asian Americans and Asians (holders of H-1B visas) are often employees, rarely CEOs.

Ascend, an Asian-American professional organization based in New York, found that although 27 percent of professionals working at those companies are Asian or Asian-American, fewer than 19 percent of managers, and just under 14 percent of executives, are.
Asian women are especially underrepresented.

Another report says the same thing: The authors crunched previously unavailable EEOC data for 2013 released by Google, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LinkedIn, and Yahoo, which includes data for 139,370 professionals. They found that whites were overrepresented in management (72.2%) and executive (80.3%) roles compared to the 62.2% of professional technical staff they represented. And, they found that Asians were 27.2% of professionals, 18.8% of managers, and 13.9% of executives.

It should also be noted that the Asian American/Asian community in the US is likewise a diverse group; hence, one needs to take a closer look at who among this demographic group are most likely to be in STEM.

A survey by the Pew Research Center a few years back showed that among Asians in the US with H-1B visas, those from India comprised 56 % while 44% came from other countries.

In terms of high educational attainment, among Asian Americans aged 25 years and older, 70% of Indian descent have a bachelor's degree or higher, followed by 53% Koreans, 51% Chinese, 47% Filipinos, 46% Japanese and 26% Vietnamese. 

Gender Disparity in Tech Industry

In terms of gender diversity, the Gizmodo article reported that those six major tech companies were predominantly male; but when tech companies focus on recruiting more women, that usually results in more white women.

In other words, women of color remain to be a marginalized group – not only because of their gender, but of their race/ethnicity.

As to the general lack of gender diversity in tech, some observers think this is brought about by women's own lack of interest in the field, while there are those that say the discrimination and sexism faced by women in STEM – such as being passed over in favor of men with equal qualifications - are what push them to leave the industry.

A recent report released by First Round, a venture capital firm, on the state of US startup companies shows that men and women seem to differ in their view as to the reason behind the lack of diversity in the tech industry.
It interviewed more than 700 founders, 83% of whom were male, and found that diversity is still huge problem within the technology sector. […] Nearly 50% of men thought the main reason was too few women and minorities entering the tech sector. Only 23% of women agreed with them. The biggest reason for the lack of diversity in tech, in female founders’ eyes, was unconscious bias. Only 12% of male founders thought this was the main driver behind male and pale dominance.

Some tech insiders allude to a dearth in the pipeline as a reason for the industry's diversity problem; however, some diversity proponents see this only as an excuse, an NPR report said.

The "pipeline" argument — that there are simply not enough properly skilled minorities for hire — has troubled diversity experts in Silicon Valley for years.
"It's always been a cop-out," says Kalimah Priforce, who runs Oakland-based Qeyno Labs, which organizes hackathons targeted at minority youth. "The pipeline has a bias. ... Their version of the pipeline is what's creating the outcome that we see." 

But back to what the Gizmodo says in its article, though there has been progress made so far in increasing the diversity numbers in the tech sector, much still needs to be done. We know diversity companies have their own diversity initiatives and diversity goals. Yet some commenters say there is only much talk, without much implementation of suggested solutions. 

It's clear a big challenge remains in the tech industry. It is not only a question of improving the numbers by hiring and retaining more, but this calls for truly creating a more inclusive, welcoming work environment where each employee can perform to his/her utmost best. Diversity and inclusion. They go hand in hand.

Perhaps it is time for the top brass – especially the males - to look more honestly inside them, spot their unconscious biases, and exert all means to erase these from their system. Those at the top should try to get down from their pedestal and mingle with those from the minority groups in their organizations and see things from their perspective. It's the only way to make things better: to walk the talk.

And not the least, diversity reports should be honest reflection of the real diversity state in the respective workplace - and that include specific, measurable goals and trackable accountability that reflects on particular managers — and the CEO.

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