These Tech Companies Are Gunning for Diverse Workplaces - But Is it Working?

The tech industry has long been plagued by workforce homogeneity; now, many companies are taking serious measures to diversify.

The tech industry has long been plagued by workforce homogeneity; now, many companies are taking serious measures to diversify.

In the last few years, prominent tech companies have come under increasing scrutiny for their lack of workplace diversity, and for good reason. By the middle of 2014, according to Fortune, at least 14 of these companies had released data concerning their workforce, yielding dismal results: On average, 71% of employees were male, and 60% were white, according to The Verge.

Within leadership roles, the disparity was even greater: just 18% of the positions were held by women, while a whopping 65% were occupied by white men. In light of this information, Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have all pledged to diversify their workforces. How are they doing? Let’s investigate.

Progress?

A year after these numbers were made public, Google released its second diversity report, revealing discouragingly limited progress. The percentage of women in Google’s technical positions, for example, increased by only one percent, according to Fortune, from 17% to 18%, with a similarly minimal increase in leadership to 22%.

And the total number of female employees rose from 28% to 30%. Facebook fared no better: its most recent report revealed that 91% of its US workforce is white or Asian, including 94% of its leadership.

Google’s VP of Human Resources was quick to issue a rebuttal, indicating that these gains were not insignificant given the company’s massive workforce (around 56,000 employees). Moreover, in 2015, Google invested $150 million in diversity initiatives, which included doubling the number of schools where they actively recruit, offering workshops that tackle unconscious bias, and allowing Googlers to focus 20% of their work time on diversity projects.

For its part, Facebook has outlined specific ways in which the company is addressing D&I, including increasing the required number of underrepresented minority candidates for an open position, targeted training programmes for college students, and reworking training courses meant to help manage bias.

Turning Elsewhere

As promising as these programmes are, they could do with a little external support to bolster their efforts. Tech giants and startups alike are turning to outside companies that harness big data to reduce discrimination and make sound hiring decisions, according to Wakefield. The nature of unconscious bias means that homogeneity is a self-fulfilling prophecy; a homogenous HR team will likely hire similar candidates simply because deviating from the status quo feels unnatural (even if we aren’t consciously aware that it does).

This is why introducing an unbiased third party into the equation to help identify D&I problem areas can be so effective. For instance, when the engineering team at Pinterest turned to companies that specifically encouraged employees to refer candidates from underrepresented groups, they saw a 24% increase in the referral rate of women, and an incredible 55x increase in the number of nonwhite referrals.

Hiring Change

Additionally, job descriptions and the interview process tend to cater to the status quo candidate, so focussing on tailoring them to a diverse swath of candidates can have a significant impact. The language used in job postings greatly influences who applies to a job in the first place – terms like “a proven track record” yield a greater number of male applicants, while industry jargon like “best practices” and “pushing the envelope” discourage just about everybody from applying.

Using blind screening practices can certainly reduce the risk of unconscious bias, but importantly, only up until the point of human interaction. The challenge most companies face is that even when the process is consistent and objective, how do they then quantify the quality of the decision being made?

Because their practices are so established, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and many others are struggling to see any significant gains through D&I initiatives. Thus, it’s imperative that other companies look to service and software providers who offer these kinds of solutions to get their diversity and inclusion efforts on track – and fast.

(Image credit: Simon/Pixabay)