Oct 9, 2020 - Economy & Business

The numbers behind tech's big diversity gaps

Ina Fried
a hand grabbing a 1 from a pile of ones and zeros

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The government has a newfound interest in looking into discrimination in the tech industry, which is overwhelmingly male and has a big problem with underrepresentation of Black and Latinx employees.

  • The Trump administration, far from seeking greater diversity, is asking whether corporate goals to boost Black representation are a form of discrimination.

Why it matters: Experts say concrete goals are needed to ensure aspirations turn into results.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, Axios reported that the Labor Department has been probing whether Microsoft's goal of increasing Black representation in its ranks constitutes a form of racial discrimination. In a blog post, Microsoft said it believes it is fully complying with U.S. employment laws.

By the numbers:

Data: Axios research; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Axios research; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Most companies have made only modest progress in recent years despite increased attention and focus on diversity. And the above numbers are just for total employment.

  • In most cases, whites and males make up an even larger percentage of those in technical roles as well as in management and executive ranks.
  • In tech, these are the groups that are best paid and wield the most power inside the companies.

What they're saying: Diversity consultant Nicole Sanchez believes that neither company leaders nor the federal government "are actually concerned with Black representation in tech."

  • "On the industry side, leaders have every reason to maintain the status quo."
  • "From the federal government, it's a dog whistle to let the white folks pushing back on diversity efforts know whose side they're on. And so both sides will posture and wait out the election."

Diversity consultant and Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson argues that commitments to increase representation are a simple matter of fairness.

  • "When companies set representation targets, that doesn't mean they're planning to hire or promote people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender. Instead, it reflects a desire to intentionally and explicitly address the biases and barriers that left certain groups behind in the past."
  • "The absence of proactive inclusion strategies isn't neutrality, it's exclusion."

Erik Day, who leads Dell's small business efforts, says his company's targets help ensure the company takes the right steps, such as recruiting at historically Black colleges and meeting with Black fraternities and sororities at other colleges.

  • "If you set a goal you are accountable for achievement," Day said. "As a leader it is forcing me to think differently."

A Labor Department spokesperson told Axios that the agency "appreciates Microsoft's assurance on its website that it is not engaging in racial preferences or quotas in seeking to reach its affirmative action and outreach goals."

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