Published on January 27, 2023.
By: Yanet Mengistie
Although the tech world today is not as advanced as a Black Mirror episode, technology has become an encompassing part of everyday life for most people. People can access their personal bank information, retrieve health data, order groceries, or watch a live concert in just a few clicks on their phone.
The “tech” industry views itself as the creators of a universal innovation, where users receive equal access to their products or services; however, behind the scenes, it is a different story.Those employed by tech industries are mistreated, and disparities continue to exist in the number of Black professionals in tech versus white. This disparity reveals a lot about what goes on internally within these dominant companies.
What is going on in these companies?
Tech companies’ attempt to achieve diversity and inclusion have been lackluster. Many Black individuals feel talk is cheap when it comes to creating a diverse environment. Since many companies that have promised steps toward diversity have failed to do so.
Blendoor, an analytics company, investigated and published a report called The State of DEI in Tech 2021. The report assessed 240 tech companies in 2020—the year that brought the Covid-19 pandemic and the uproar from the Black Lives Matter Movement—and some of the diversity initiatives within these companies.
In 2020, over 60 per cent of the 240 companies claimed to make diversity, equity, and inclusion promises. Out of the 60 per cent, combined they made 535 pledges towards DEI which totalled four billion dollars.
Therefore, it would be an understatement to say tech companies loudly proclaimed a lot of public support for incorporating Black and POC in their workforce. However, Blendoor soon realized that the tech companies that made a publicized statement about BLM have 20 per cent fewer Black employees than tech companies that did not.
On top of this, what Blendoor called underrepresented minorities (URM), those who are not white or Asian, make substantially less, $35,000 less to be specific. These companies face problems when it comes to obtaining promotions, where white candidates are favoured to receive them.
According to leadership positions, the report revealed that white employees make up 50 per cent of entry-level professionals and comprise 70 per cent of senior-level positions in tech, which makes white people overrepresented in top positions.
Whereas URM men made up eight per cent of entry-level positions and four per cent in senior. The stats for URM women are worse, with only four per cent making entry-level positions and three per cent in senior levels. The moral posturing these tech companies are doing has not been matched by evidence.
Social circles trump everything
So, why are Black people underrepresented in tech companies? A lot of this has to do with networking. Networking is often seen as a small part of a job hunt and how candidates get hired for positions, but this is far from the truth.
In reality, 80 per cent of job positions are filled through new potential employees that network with existing employees who establish connections with one another. Furthermore, 70 per cent of positions are not posted on job boards and are filled through internal referrals. Knowing the right people plays a huge factor in getting hired in today’s job market.
In tech specifically, 40 per cent of employers hire based on recommendations from internal employees. Knowing the right person or making the right connection plays a key role in obtaining a job in all sectors of the employment industry.
Networking is not an even playing field; even the former CEO of Linkedin has acknowledged the occurrence of the “network gap” which is the “advantage some people have over others in accessing opportunities based on where they grew up, where they went to school, and where they work.”
This means that while networking is a tool for some, for others it is a gatekeeping barrier. A study that used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Job Search revealed this. The researchers assessed 1,617 US job seekers from February 2013 to November 2014.
While both Black and white job seekers used social networking, researchers found that Black candidates who used networking were still five per cent less likely to receive an offer.
62 per cent of the time, white candidates knew someone at the company they were applying for, whereas with Black candidates, the number was only 56 per cent. The study concluded that although Black candidates have networks, those networks are less likely to help them get an offer compared to white job seekers.
In tech, the field is dominated by white employees. It is made up of 83 per cent white executives and 62 per cent white employees. Given that tech uses referrals, 40 per cent of the time, Black candidates—even those with networks—may not be given an equal chance in the hiring process.
Does diversity in tech really matter?
Diversity is not just a moral issue, but it can strengthen a business. A McKinsey & Company report from 2015 named Diversity Matters studied this.
The organization looked into 366 companies across industries in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and South America. They found that companies with racially diverse management and board members are 30 per cent more likely to financially outperform their national industry medians.
The report revealed in terms of performance that companies who had racial diversity as opposed to only gender diversity performed better. Companies that are racially diverse were 35 per cent more likely to outperform the national average in their industry, while companies that were gender diverse were 15 per cent more likely.
Gender and racial diversity offer companies financial benefits, thus strengthening the company and its funding to work on greater innovative tasks. Tech needs to put more resources into understanding its hiring practices and the untapped potential that diversity and inclusion can bring to grow not just companies but the industry as a whole.