Why the Tech Diversity Gap Continues to Persist
Learn why the diversity gap in tech continues to persist for underrepresented groups, particularly for women, Black professionals, and Latinos/as.
Published on February 16, 2022 · Updated on February 17, 2022
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- People who are women, Latinos/as, and/or Black are underrepresented in tech companies.
- Lack of access to STEM degrees and tech bootcamps contributes to the diversity gap.
- Inclusive practices help employers hire and retain more people from diverse backgrounds.
With a quick search of "diversity in tech," you'll learn a lot from the headlines: There's a major problem.
It's easy to find articles explaining that tech is largely dominated by white, cisgender, straight men. More than that, the structures and processes at many Silicon Valley companies are not built to accommodate and support people of diverse identities and experiences.
It's not a revolutionary story.
When one homogenous group holds the power and creates the systems to gain power in the future, those outside the main group can have difficulty succeeding there. This is structural inequality.
America has started to discuss this inequity in our society, but it's not close to being resolved.
Tech needs to diversify to better serve science, innovation, and society. Let's take a look at where the numbers lie, what challenges exist, and what needs to change.
Representation by the Numbers
It's hard to get perfect data on the tech industry as a whole. Tech includes so many different businesses and specialties — software, hardware, cybersecurity, data analytics, web development, and more.
For the purposes of this article, we'll define tech as tech companies based in Silicon Valley. This is only a small representation of tech nationally and globally, but it is a fairly indicative sample of tech in America.
The existing data is not particularly surprising: tech is populated predominantly by people who are white and men.
The Pew Research Center shows women, in 2018, earned 53% of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees — many of these in health-related fields. However, they earned just 22% of bachelor's degrees in engineering and 19% in computer science.
The representation of Black and/or Latino/a employees has shown to be low in tech — with women of these groups being highly underrepresented.
As of 2020, Google, for example, reports that 5.9% of its employees and contractors are Latino. This is up from 2.9% in 2014, but it's not even close to challenging the white-dominated industry.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter have stated their efforts to increase diversity in their workforces, but recent reports show many still want to see tech companies better reflect society.
If we want to understand why the racial gap in tech persists, we need to understand the barriers minority workers face, the workplace climates they endure, and the reasons they don't stay in tech.
Issues With Bootcamp Recruitment
Four-year colleges and universities aren't accessible to everyone. Even if underrepresented students get in and go to a four-year college, they may be forced to take on significant student loan debt to cover school expenses. Costs also prevent many from completing their degree.
With the average 2020 college graduate leaving school with approximately $30,000 of student loan debt, coding bootcamps may seem like a better alternative.
However, prices for these bootcamps vary greatly. Some may be a few thousand dollars, while the most expensive bootcamps charge more than $20,000.
And bootcamps are not effectively serving underserved communities, data shows. Bootcamps still have work to do to attract Black and Latino/a learners.
In 2020, there were actually fewer Black and Latino/a bootcamp graduates than there were Black and Latino/a computer science graduates. Overall, many are recognizing the need for more diversity and inclusion in college STEM studies.
Bootcamps also have marketing issues with low-income, Black and Latino/a communities:
- Most bootcamps do not target underrepresented groups for recruitment.
- Because bootcamps are relatively new, many underrepresented communities may question the legitimacy of coding bootcamps.
- Since colleges and universities are known entities, many view them as a safer financial risk than a bootcamp.
Targeted recruiting by coding bootcamps could help bridge this diversity gap. They could demonstrate bootcamp results in Black and Latino/a communities.
Bias in Access to Bootcamps
Many coding bootcamps are taking place remotely — especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This provides great flexibility for bootcamp students and can create a bridge to tech jobs.
However, the pandemic also highlighted issues with reliable access to personal computers and high-speed internet. This drew attention primarily as families with children tried to accomplish remote schooling.
The Pew Research Center found that consistent access to and the ability to afford reliable internet was a significant concern for Hispanic and Black families — populations studied in the report — during the pandemic. Hispanic families were more than twice as likely to be concerned about paying for reliable internet access than their white peers.
While this research focused on pandemic experiences, it's not a leap to believe it highlighted existing disparities. If higher rates of Black and Latino/a people are not able to access or pay for reliable internet, the flexibility and additional cost of a bootcamp is irrelevant. They simply face obstacles in accessing the material.
This doesn't even consider access to computers, especially not the quality of computers some bootcamps require to complete the coursework.
Systemic Issues in Tech Companies
There have been reports of discrimination and bias at tech companies.
A frequent issue for underrepresented groups in tech is the lack of support resources and human resources (HR) departments that preserve the status quo in the organizations and institutions that created them.
If you can only raise a discrimination complaint to your supervisor, you might not do so out of fear of losing your job or facing further discrimination. And what if your supervisor is the offender? This is where HR is supposed to support employees.
Bigger tech companies have HR departments, although they may be called "people operations teams." However, many tech companies are smaller or working remotely. They don't always create HR teams out of concern it will hurt their financial bottom line.
What Tech Can Change
There are clear changes tech companies and bootcamps can make to decrease the diversity gap in tech. They aren't quick or easy, but they are necessary.
Bootcamps and tech companies need to recruit and coach underrepresented groups.
Many coding bootcamps are offering scholarships for women or LGBTQ students. Ideally, every bootcamp would offer scholarships for many underserved populations.
Additionally, larger tech companies would benefit from investing in Black and Latino/a communities. What if Google provided free Wi-Fi for Latino/a families under a certain income threshold? What if Facebook offered coding summer camps in Black communities?
All tech companies — and the industry as a whole — need to work on equity, diversity, and inclusion as part of their company culture.
This can be supported by HR teams, but it must be a companywide effort — from the top down.
Knowing that tech needs to diversify is a good first step. But the tech industry needs to provide equity through opportunities and education and then create inclusive communities where different groups feel welcome and safe.
Everyone around the world interacts with tech. It would benefit tech companies to better represent these different communities, the people they serve. Recruit and build a diverse workforce. And once these employees are hired, provide a supportive and inclusive environment where all workers can thrive.
Increasing diversity in tech is not just a box to check or a campaign slogan. It is a pillar of our socio-political life.
Frequently Asked Questions About Diversity and Tech
Our institutions should reflect the people they serve. Tech companies are used worldwide by people from different cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Billions of people interact with these companies on a daily basis, and input from people of more diverse backgrounds in their policies and products will strengthen the product and our communities.
The short answer, yes. It's hard to study the "tech industry" because there isn't much data on the industry as a whole. Many companies only offer internal polls. However, most U.S. tech companies are predominantly made of white men.
This may be a trickledown effect from the enrollment at colleges and universities up until the 1970s being predominantly white men. The tech industry took off in the 1970s, and the people with existing STEM degrees were almost exclusively white men.
Lack of diversity in a business can lead to a loss of money, employees, or both. Studies show companies with teams of people with more diverse backgrounds often outperform homogenous companies. Lack of equity and inclusion prevents many employees from joining the team — and then staying on the team.
If one-third of women in tech fear for their safety at work, they are unlikely to continue in the field. If you are always the only Black person in the company and face daily microaggressions, you may burn out faster than your white peers.
Feature Image: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images