Diversity in Technology, or Lack Thereof

In the melting pot that is the United States, diversity is becoming more and more important; our population is diverse and our workplaces should be as well. New research suggests that having a diverse workforce gives companies a competitive edge. If this is the case, why does it seem like technology companies aren’t getting on board the diversity train?

The Facts                                                              

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that diverse groups outperformed more homogeneous groups not solely because of an influx of new ideas, but because diversity triggered more careful information processing that is absent in homogeneous groups.

In the following graph created from data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can see the comparison of the Professional & Technical Services employees to the entire workforce. There has been a diversity problem in the technology field for at least a decade, so we have compared 2008 to 2013.Employed Persons

Entire Workforce vs Professional & Technical Services

 

Women

Black/African American

Asian

Hispanic/Latino

2008

– 2.7%

– 4.7%

+ 3.6%

– 6.8%

2013

– 3.3%

– 5.0%

+ 4.0%

– 6.4%

% change (2008 to 2013)

– 0.6%

– 0.3%

+ 0.4%

+ 0.4%

The above table shows the percent difference for all minorities by each group’s percentage in the Entire Workforce verses the Professional & Technical Services (PTS). For example, the percent difference of women in 2013 in the Workforce in comparison to PTS is -3.3% thus there are less women are in PTS in comparison to the Entire Workforce. Now, when comparing the percent change of women from 2008 to 2013, you can see that the percentage of women continues to decline overtime in PTS. On the flipside, for Hispanics, you can see that the overall % change from 2008 to 2013 has slightly increased in PTS, but the percentage difference in the Entire Workforce verses PTS is still below what is expected in the Entire Workforce.  As a whole, minorities are still not represented in Professional & Technical Services as much as they are in the Entire Workforce. The next step is figuring out why there is a diversity problem in this industry.

There are many activists that recognize how important diversity is in the industry. Ashe Dryden’s talk Programming Diversity supports the issue with hard facts and solutions to the lack of diversity. Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk discusses why women are being pushed to the side and leaves it up to them to be more included.

Given the trend in the graph and the theme in the videos mentioned above, there are definitely questions to be answered. For example:

  • Why is there an increase in the volume of minorities leaving the industry?
  • Why is retention such a problem?
  • How do we help minorities feel involved?

These are all questions that don’t have a straightforward answer, but need to be investigated.

What is the Solution?

To answer this question, let’s start a t the beginning. First, how do we define diversity? Diversity is something that is nearly impossible to define in just a sentence or two; think of the definition as more of a conversation. It is not only about ethnicity, gender, and social status. The image below is a wonderful representation of what diversity really means.

Diversity

The word that sticks out the most to me in this image is “inclusion”. When discussing diversity in the work environment, the first thing we focus on is numbers. While it is okay to focus on numbers to start out, they are only the beginning of our problem with diversity. When a certain minority is well represented within your company, the next step is to ensure they are included; representation in itself is not nearly enough. Company culture is extremely important and that starts at the top. All people need to be on board and aware that minorities are generally not included or feel unwanted at events.

Spreading awareness about the lack of diversity can positively influence the growth of the above percentages. Training and education is one easy way to create awareness. Many companies have mandatory training on diversity. These programs help people in the majority become more self-aware of things they say and, more importantly, how they act toward people that are different from them. The lack of diversity will not change overnight, over a month, even over a year. It will take generations for minorities to be more included because it’s a learned task. It’s natural to distance yourself from people that are different, but that’s because you were brought up to feel that way. Educating our youth to treat all people equally regardless of race, gender, or religion will be the solution in the long run, and that starts with us today. We need to make the change. See the issue and take a stance. Get involved and spread the word to our youth.

How can I get involved?

The Technology for Women Meetup group was started to give women in technology a common meeting ground to discuss different technologies and diversity within tech. The main focus is to acknowledge there’s an issue with the lack of diversity in technology and to create awareness and solutions to the problem. Previously mentioned activists such as Ashe Dryden, a feminist in the social media realm, and Sheryl Sandberg, a feminist in the corporate world, works have been reviewed in the sessions. The group tries to show members content from feminist leaders to give them someone to look up to, and to help members realize these issues are recognized everywhere.

Though the Technology for Women’s group is in general for women, general diversity in tech is a huge topic. Men and women of all backgrounds are always welcome to attend the events and encouraged to be open and give their opinion on matters that involve diversity. The group has already or will host sessions regarding Diversity in Programming, Women Entrepreneurs, and Diversity in Blogging and Social Media. The group gives the members a voice and collaborates as a team to make a difference.

If you want to get involved, the Technology for Women group meets the last Wednesday of every month at West Monroe Partners. The next Meetup is Wednesday, July 30th at 6:00pm. The topic is Diversity in Blogging and Social Media and will be led by blog enthusiast Marcie Hill. If you are interested in joining our group, please check out our website!

By: Emily Bichler and Krystin Stutesman

3 Comments

  • Marcie Hill July 23, 2014 5:13 pm

    Amazing article, great stats and the solution you offered was on point.

    Emily and Krystin, I love your passion and commitment on this topic. And your genuine interest in boosting inclusion is rubbing off on me. I’ve actually started looking for a gig in diversity. Ideally, I would be writing about this topic, but if I work in this field in order to make the change I would love to see, then I’m willing to do it.

    • Emily Bichler July 24, 2014 9:03 am

      We appreciate the support Marcie. We are passionate about it because we live it everyday! Hope to see articles from you about the topic in the future! Can’t wait to hear you speak next week!

    • Krystin Stutesman July 24, 2014 9:20 am

      Marcie, that made my day. I love that you’re looking for a gig in diversity.

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