How Diversity in Tech Drives Innovation, Transforms Communities, and Powers Better Results
It’s a paradox of the tech industry that the people who write computer code lack the diversity to serve the needs and wants of the people who use it.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that:
- Men make up 78% of coders, compared with 49% of all Americans.
- White professionals make up 66% of coders, compared with 59% of all Americans.
In recent years, industry employers have begun to realize that gender and racial diversity in tech is important—not only for social equity (or the appearance thereof), but also for overall business success and relevance in an evolving world.
As a result, many companies are adopting strategies to diversify their hiring. They’re also implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion policies to help new hires advance their careers. As diversity in tech evolves, new opportunities are emerging for—and often spearheaded by—women and people of color.
Lack of Diversity in Tech
The lack of diversity in tech is no secret. In a 2021 survey of 270 tech companies by Wiley Edge, 68% of respondents acknowledged that they were not diverse.
U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2020 analyzed by Data USA confirm that women and most racial minorities are underrepresented in the world of computer programming:
- Only 22% of programmers are women.
- Black programmers make up roughly 5% of the workforce.
- Hispanic professionals account for about 2.5% of coders.
- Fewer than 1% are Native American, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.
That’s a problem for workers trying to break into tech jobs, but it’s also a problem for tech companies. The lack of diversity in tech can have a variety of negative effects on how businesses operate.
In the Wiley Edge survey, 51% of companies reported they had trouble recruiting diverse entry-level talent. They cited several reasons:
The educational system doesn’t encourage enough women and people of color to pursue tech careers.
- Candidates doubt whether they have the necessary skills and qualifications.
- Diverse role models are themselves underrepresented in the industry.
- Students lack knowledge about available tech jobs.
Wiley Edge also surveyed 2,030 tech workers, ages 18 to 28. More than two-thirds reported they had felt uncomfortable in a job because of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or neurodevelopmental condition.
The same survey found that women had more negative job experiences than men, by a margin of 8%. Similarly, Black, Hispanic, and Asian workers had more negative job experiences than white workers.
Harassment and Discrimination Charges
In recent years, tech companies have been sued by current or former employees over allegations of harassment or discrimination. Such negative publicity can discourage qualified candidates from applying to a company.
Lawsuits can affect an organization’s reputation, and its finances as well. In 2020, Google settled a sexual harassment lawsuit by pledging $310 million toward diversity initiatives.
Pay Gaps by Gender and Race
In a 2021 survey, the tech employment service Hired found that men were offered more money than women for the same title at the same company 59% of the time. On average, women made 3% less than men in similar positions.
The survey also found racial pay gaps, with Black tech workers earning 4% less than the average tech worker. Black women suffered an even bigger gap—earning 10% less.
If not thoughtfully designed to foster inclusion, software can produce racially biased results. An analysis of 189 facial recognition algorithms by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that they misidentified Black and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more often than white faces.
Such unintended biases often result from the data fed into AI systems to train them. If software engineers don’t make an effort to diversify that data, they will likely overrepresent white males and underrepresent other groups.
Understanding Why Diversity in Tech Is Important
Just as a lack of diversity in tech works against the evolution of a company or organization, improving diversity is known to promote growth and profitability. A 2019 McKinsey & Company analysis of more than 1,000 large companies found:
- The most ethnically diverse quarter of companies were 36% more likely to have above-average profit margins than the least diverse quarter.
- The most gender-diverse quarter of companies were 25% more likely to have above-average profits.
- A closer look at diversity’s business benefits helps to explain those financial advantages and to underline why diversity in tech is important.
Companies with diverse workforces are more attractive to nearly all potential applicants. A 2020 survey of job seekers by Glassdoor found that 75% considered a diverse workforce important when comparing companies and job offers.
Close to a third said they would not apply to a company whose workforce was not diverse. The figure was even higher for Black and LGBTQ+ workers: 41% for each.
Employees in diverse companies feel more positive about those companies. In a 2020 survey by the human resources firm Quantum Workplace, 61% of workers said that diversity and inclusion programs were essential.
The same survey tied diversity to job satisfaction. Respondents who felt their workplaces were strongly diverse were 35% more likely to feel engaged than those who felt their workplace diversity was weak.
A wider range of perspectives in a workplace team can produce more comprehensive and effective decisions. A 2018 study by Gartner found that teams perform up to 30% better in high-diversity environments.
Workers have learned to associate diversity with career advancement. A workforce survey by SurveyMonkey/CNBC reported that 65% of employees who felt their firms were diverse also felt that they had good to excellent career opportunities. At less diverse firms, only 42% felt that way.
Many potential customers favor diverse companies. A 2020 consumer survey by Top Design Firms reported that 34% would consider a brand’s commitment to diversity before deciding on a purchase.
The sentiment was strongest among millennials. Of consumers between 18 and 34, 73% were at least somewhat likely to buy something after seeing an advertisement spotlighting diversity.
DEI in Tech
In recent years, many tech companies have tried to strengthen their diversity programs. But they’ve found progress to be slower than desired:
- In 2014, Google announced it would invest $150 million to promote diversity. Six years later, although Black and Hispanic shares had doubled, they totaled only 9.6% of its workforce.
- In the overall tech industry, Black and Hispanic workers held just 19% of jobs in 2019, compared with 28% of total U.S. jobs, according to an analysis by HR&A Advisors.
In response to the sluggish pace of change, many human resource professionals argue that diversity alone is not enough to ensure fairness to all groups of workers. They promote a broader, three-part strategy of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
The three terms may sound similar, but they have distinct meanings and aim at different but complementary outcomes.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines diversity as individuals’ similarities and differences, accounting for various aspects of their personalities and identities.
Those aspects can cover a wide range of categories. In DEI programs, the most common are:
- Race, ethnicity, or national origin
- Sexual orientation
Programs may also address other aspects of diversity, such as age, disability, gender identity, socioeconomic class, family status, neurodiversity, or military service.
Diversity is the foundation of any DEI program. But for a business to fully realize the benefits of diverse hiring, advocates say, it must also promote inclusion and equity.
Hiring a diverse staff can backfire if the workplace culture isn’t welcoming. The Glassdoor survey found that 47% of Black tech workers and 47% of Hispanic tech workers had quit a job after experiencing or witnessing discrimination.
That’s why inclusion is an important element of DEI in tech. SHRM defines it as making every team member feel welcome, supported, and respected.
Inclusion is often described as creating an environment in which each worker has a sense of belonging and feels comfortable being their authentic self.
Rewards of an inclusive workplace can include:
- Every employee working up to their potential
- More effective teamwork, as all members feel encouraged to contribute
- Higher job satisfaction and lower turnover
A common shortcoming of diversity in hiring is that gaps persist in other areas, such as equal pay and promotion opportunities. McKinsey reports that in 2021:
- Women made up 47% of entry-level positions but only 24% of C-suite executives.
- People of color were in 34% of entry-level jobs but had only 17% of C-suite titles.
Equity attempts to bridge those gaps. SHRM defines it as treating every person fairly in regard to access, opportunity, and advancement.
A core goal of equity programs is to remove barriers for underrepresented groups—to create a level playing field for all employees. A company might:
- Weigh skills as well as education in hiring decisions to account for unequal access to higher education
- Offer spousal benefits to same-sex couples and domestic partners
- Ensure that facilities and equipment are accessible to workers with disabilities.
An essential aspect of all three elements of DEI in tech is the need to measure progress. It’s not enough to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Like other parts of a business, such as sales or production, it’s important to set targets and to assess whether they’re being met periodically.
Such measurements can help a program identify weaknesses and, when necessary, change strategies to achieve better results. Equity metrics can include:
- Tracking hiring and promotion data by gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation demographics
- Surveying employees on whether pay, promotions, and benefits are fair
- Auditing compensation to determine whether some workers in similar jobs are underpaid
- Comparing the company with others in the industry
DEI experts recommend that metrics be transparent. Employees are more likely to feel a company’s commitment and buy into its policies if they can see its impacts.
Diversity Hiring in Tech
To speed up the pace of change, many companies are redoubling their efforts toward diversity in tech. To create more balanced workplaces and better opportunities for underrepresented groups, they’re using a diverse array of strategies, largely focused on entry-level workers.
Diverse hiring in tech begins in the recruiting process. Recruiters are likely to include a wider variety of candidates in their shortlists for positions if a company specifically asks them to do so.
It also helps a company to cultivate relationships with groups that can provide diverse applicants, such as students, professionals, or networking organizations whose members are female, people of color, or LGBTQ+. Such outreach has the added benefit of enhancing a company’s reputation for diversity.
Inclusive Language in Job Ads
While a company evaluates applicants, potential applicants are also evaluating a company. Research has shown that word choices in ads and job descriptions can discourage candidates who aren’t white or male.
- Including words like “supportive” and “cooperative” can appeal to women, while words like “active” and “decisive” are more likely to attract men.
- Gender-neutral language communicates that women, men, and nonbinary or gender-nonconforming applicants are all welcome.
- Requiring “strong communications skills” instead of “native English speaker” can encourage ESL candidates to apply.
Companies can screen the language in job descriptions, both by using anti-bias software and by sending drafts to diverse employees to review.
Unconscious biases can cause hiring managers to screen out resumes of females or people of color. A 2019 study by the Wharton School found that when resumes included names that could be identified as female or minority, reviewers gave lower ratings to the same candidates.
To ensure a fairer hiring process, many companies anonymize resumes. They remove information like name, address, age, college, and photos that might suggest the applicant’s gender or ethnicity.
Anonymized resumes also have the virtue of highlighting skills and work history rather than personal qualities, helping to ensure that the best-suited resumes rise to the top.
Unconscious Bias Training
A major obstacle to inclusive workplaces is unconscious assumptions that managers make about people around them. Such assumptions can manifest themselves in snap judgments, unintended insults, and confusing communications, which can make non-white or non-male team members feel that they don’t belong.
The goal of unconscious bias training is to make managers aware of biases they may hold so that they can correct them. For example, a manager might become aware of talking down to female employees.
One-on-one relationships between employees and managers can help to overcome barriers and accelerate career advancement. For members of underrepresented groups who may face challenges that other workers don’t, mentoring and coaching can be even more crucial.
Formal mentoring programs can offer many kinds of benefits, both to employees and to companies:
- Role models who understand an employee’s challenges because they belong to the same group
- A safe place for workers to discuss sensitive issues
- A pipeline for alerting senior executives to DEI problems
- Faster diversification of executive ranks through faster promotions
Diversity in Education
The pipeline to diversity in tech hiring begins with educational institutions. To create a wider pool of job candidates, many are working to diversify their own student bodies and to tailor programs to underrepresented groups. Such efforts are taking a variety of forms:
- Intensive coding academies and bootcamps targeted to women or people of color
- Convenient online programs for workers seeking to change careers
- Tutoring and counseling services to help students overcome barriers
- Support networks with other students in underrepresented groups
- Curricula offering historical examples of tech pioneers who are female or non-white
- Faculty comprising instructors and role models who reflect diverse demographics
Pursue a Career in the Diversifying World of Tech
As companies strive to increase diversity in tech, they’re creating a wealth of new opportunities for groups who have long found it hard to break in. The online Grace Hopper Coding Bootcamp at Fullstack Academy is one example of a program designed for women and nonbinary coders.
Such a learning opportunity provides both intensive schooling in coding basics and experience-informed support for overcoming systemic challenges. Learn more about how the Grace Hopper Program can help you pursue your professional goals in the diversifying tech industry.
Grace Hopper: the Person, Programmer, and Pioneer
How to Get into Tech with No Experience
What Is a Coding Bootcamp? Requirements and Steps
Built In, “What Does Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Mean in the Workplace?”
Business Insider, “2020 Brought a Wave of Discrimination and Harassment Allegations Against Major Companies Like Amazon”
CIO, “5 Ways Diversity and Inclusion Help Teams Perform Better”
Clear Law Institute, “Why Unconscious Bias Training for Employees Is Essential”
CNBC, “Google’s $310 Million Sexual Harassment Settlement Aims to Set New Industry Standards”
Data USA, Computer Programmers, Diversity
Fast Company, “One Reason for the Tech Industry’s Great Resignation: Lack of Diversity”
Forbes, “Hiring Managers, Here Are 4 Useful Tips to Create More Inclusive Job Descriptions”
Glassdoor, “Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey”
Glassdoor, “How to Get Started Reporting on Your Company’s D&I Numbers and Setting Goals”
Government Technology, “Black, Latino People Are Being Left Out of the Tech Workforce”
Hired, “Hired Releases Annual Report on Wage Gap and Workplace Discrimination”
HR&A Advisors, “Tech’s Racial Equity Gap Costs Black & Latinx Workers $50B a Year”
InStride, “7 Exceptional Examples of Equity in the Workplace”
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality"
Lever, “The State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Tech”
McKinsey & Co., “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters"
McKinsey & Co., “Women in the Workplace 2021”
Paycor, “Are Your Job Descriptions Driving Away Talent With Unconscious Gender Bias?”
Pinpoint, “Blind Recruitment: How Anonymous Hiring Improves Diversity”
The Regulatory Review, “Facing Bias in Facial Recognition Technology”
Society for Human Resource Management, “Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”
Society for Human Resource Management, “Researchers Say New Study Method Catches Resume Bias”
SurveyMonkey, “CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Happiness Index: April 2021”
Top Design Firms, “Why Is Diversity Marketing Important?”
U.S. Census Bureau, QuickFacts
Wiley Edge, “Diversity in Tech: 2021 US Report”