What does diversity in tech look like in 2021?
And what can you do to improve diversity, inclusivity, and equity at your company?
Today, you’ll learn what an inclusive hiring process looks like in tech and how you can use these strategies to hire for diversity.
Ready to learn more? Read on.
Chapter 1: Why we need diversity in tech
Why is diversity in tech important?
For companies, a more diverse workforce can have huge benefits, such as access to more talent, higher profits, and a more attractive employer brand.
A bigger talent pool
The tech industry suffers from a lack of talent. In fact, 80% of employers report challenges in finding critical talent, including tech talent.
According to a Korn Ferry report, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people by 2030 and this could result in around $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues.
The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, there will be at least 133 million new roles generated as a result of how machines and algorithms are used to replace human labor. As a result, a lot of technical talent will be needed.
Think about it:
If a lot of highly qualified candidates get overlooked, everyone suffers. Employers can’t afford to lose out on underrepresented groups with technical skills.
Profitability and innovativeness
According to McKinsey, companies in the top-quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams were 35% more likely to be more profitable than other companies.
Multiple other studies confirm this. For example, a study that looked at gender diversity at the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list shows that female representation in top management leads to a $42 million increase in firms’ value.
And as this UN report shows, the tech sector could generate an additional $300-370 billion in annual revenue with representational racial and ethnic diversity.
According to the European Commission, the EU’s GDP could see an annual boost of €16 billion thanks to the inclusion of women in tech.
It makes sense:
With more diverse teams, companies have a broader perspective. In tech, this can mean new product ideas and new unique selling propositions, among other things.
An example of diversity having a direct impact on product development? Pinterest rolled out more inclusive beauty searches thanks to a collaboration between its technical and diversity teams. Changes like these mean that millions of people will engage more with products and services.
An attractive workplace
Diversity is a prerequisite for creating attractive workplaces.
47% of millennials actively look for diversity and inclusion when deciding which employers to work for. Glassdoor found that 67% of job seekers look for workforce diversity. 61% of women look at how diverse the leadership is when deciding where to work.
It’s clear that diversity has a huge impact on businesses. So, what’s the state of diversity in tech right now?
That’s what we’ll look at next.
Chapter 2: The state of diversity in tech
What does diversity in tech look like today?
And how far has it come in the past few years?
First, we’ll take a look at how diverse the tech scene actually is in 2021. Next, we’ll look at diversity numbers at Big Tech companies. And finally, we’ll uncover what other challenges underrepresented tech workers are facing.
How diverse is tech?
In 2021, most workers in technical roles are white and male.
According to a global StackOverflow survey from 2020, 91.5% of all developers are men. Only 8.0% are women and 1.2% are non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming.
68.3% of developers identify as white or of European descent. 10.4% as South Asian, 7.6% as Hispanic or Latinx, 4.9% as Middle Eastern, 4.6% as East Asian, 4.5% as Black or African, 4.5% as Southeast Asian, 1.7% as Multiracial, 1.2% as Biracial, and 0.8% as Indigenous.
What’s the reason for these gaps? Why are minorities so underrepresented in the tech landscape today?
After all, the 19th-century female mathematician Ada Lovelace is credited with creating an early computer model and writing the first lines of code.
And programming was initially a female-dominated field. For example, the first software application was created by a woman, Frances Elizabeth Holberton.
In the 1980s, women were earning 40% of computer science degrees.
But that’s when things changed. Advertising in the 80s (including an Apple ad, which clearly positioned computers as a “boys’ thing”) positioned computers as a field for (white) men. That’s also when programming started to evolve into one of the highest-paid fields.
Bias in tech
As research shows, the gender gap isn’t due to performance. Instead, boys are more exposed to engineering and computing than girls are, which creates more interest in STEM subjects at a young age.
The thing is:
There are still plenty of conscious and affinity biases (unconsciously preferring people who are like ourselves) in the tech field. These affect both women and minorities.
For example, diverse candidates from underrepresented backgrounds might be passed over and ultimately, not get hired because of bias. Unfortunately, research shows that women and minority candidates with 4.0 GPAs in the STEM field are treated the same as male candidates with 3.75 GPAs.
And once underrepresented groups are hired, inconsistent performance reviews and other structural problems can hold them back.
A lack of opportunities
Not everyone has access to the same opportunities. According to Wired, two-thirds of white students report having a computer at home, while only 50% of black and hispanic students have access to a computer at home.
The lack of women and minorities in tech becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. There aren’t enough role models in tech today, so underrepresented groups struggle to imagine themselves in technical roles.
Women and minorities suffer disproportionately from impostor syndrome (the feeling of being a non-deserving professional). And the fact that there is still bias against diverse tech talent means that they are often not regarded as competent enough for the positions they achieve.
How diverse are the biggest tech companies?
So far, we’ve identified some of the benefits and challenges for diversity in tech.
But how diverse are some of the most powerful tech companies out there, like Google, Facebook, and Slack?
While change does take time, the results aren’t that impressive.
In 2014, Big Tech started disclosing diversity reports. Diversity advocates hoped that these reports would create transparency and ultimately, change the status quo. But little progress has been made since.
(That said, the reports are making a difference as they provide data that keep up the discussion. There are tons of more traditional industries that don’t provide any diversity data at all.)
Here are a few examples of diversity in tech statistics in 2020 at some of the world’s biggest companies:
- Men: 75.9%
- Women: 24.1%
- White: 37.2%
- Asian: 53.4%
- Black: 1.7%
- Hispanic: 4.3%
- Additional groups: 0.2%
- 2 or more: 3.2%
In 2014, 15% of Facebook’s technical roles were filled by women. In 2020, that number has jumped to 24.1%.
On the other hand, only 1% of technical workers were black in 2014. In 2020, that number has grown slightly -- to 1.7%.
Hispanic tech talent has gone from 3% in 2014 to 4.3% in 2020.
Google (US, 2020)
- Men: 75.3%
- Women: 24.7%
- White: 48.1%
- Asian: 47.6%
- Black: 2.4%
- Latinx: 4.8%
- Native American: 0.7%
At Google, the number of women grew globally from 16.6% in 2014 to 23.6% in 2020. Black workers now fill 3.7% of technical roles, up from 2.4% in 2014.
Apple (US, 2018)
- Men: 77%
- Women: 23%
- White: 49%
- Asian: 35%
- Black: 6%
- Hispanic: 8%
- Multiracial: 2%
- Native American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander: 1%
Apple published its latest data set in 2018. From 2014-2018, its black tech workforce stagnated at 6%. Hispanic tech talent grew from 7% to 8%. The number of women in tech roles didn’t grow much -- from 20% in 2014 to 23% in 2018.
Slack (US, 2020)
- Men: 66.6%
- Women: 33.4%
- White: 48%
- Asian: 32.5%
- Black: 4.7%
- Hispanic or Latinx: 8.4%
- American Indian, Indigenous, or Alaska Native: 0.2%
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.2%
- Middle Eastern: 1.0%
- Two or more races: 4.0%
Women in technical roles at Slack declined between 2019-2020 from 34.6% to 33.4%, while the number of people from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds grew from 14.2% to 14.9%.
- Men: 70%
- Women: 30%
- White: 31%
- Asian: 62%
- Black: 2%
- Hispanic or Latinx: 4%
- American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0%
- Two or more races: 2.0%
What other challenges do minority groups face?
Minority groups aren’t just underrepresented or fewer in number. They also face various challenges. These include:
- A lower salary. Women in STEM make $16,000 less a year than males. Black and Latinx make $14,000 less than their white coworkers.
- Bias and reduced career advancement opportunities. An internal Facebook report showed that the company rejected code written by women 35% more often than by men. Another internal report determined that this was due to more men being in senior positions (and consequently, having more experience). One could argue that these reports are indicative of too few women rising the ranks and achieving enough seniority that their code isn’t rejected.
- Discrimination. According to a study of 60 women of color in science, 100% of study participants reported experiencing racial or gender bias. Nearly half of the latina or black scientists reported having been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff.
Side note: If you’re reading this as someone who is working in tech, especially as a white or asian male, just let that sit with you for a second－can you imagine? The pain and frustration and complete undermining of your talent, hard work, and grit as someone mistakes you for custodial staff. It is unacceptable when a mistake like this is made.
Another concrete example of descrimination is Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s blog post that pointed to sexual harassment at Uber. Ultimately, the scandal led to the resignation of their co-founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick.
Now you know what the numbers look like. So, how can things be improved?
Chapter 3: How to make tech more diverse in 5 steps
What can be done to make tech more diverse?
First, the lack of diversity in tech has several root causes, from underprivileged communities and stagnant societal norms to a lack of role models.
There’s no “silver bullet.”
Companies will need to use different measures and track progress over time.
A W.K. Kellogg Foundation report, “What Works: Evidence-Based Ideas to Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace”, includes six chapters for employment equity. Here are five takeaways you can apply in your own company:
1. Approach diversity in the same way as maximizing profits
Companies tend to be systematic about improving profits and effectiveness. Why isn’t diversity approached in the same way?
To improve diversity, companies should set goals, collect data, and examine change over time to discover if the goals are met.
The reason is simple:
Data allows companies to become accountable for change (or lack thereof).
Best practice requires that roadblocks are identified and key stakeholders are invited to participate in the process. Set diversity goals meaningfully and inclusively.
2. Make it easy to raise concerns about discrimination and harassment
How do you help make tech a welcoming industry for underrepresented groups?
Offer alternatives to existing complaint systems so that harassment and discrimination complaints don’t go unnoticed and unresolved.
Complaints shouldn’t immediately be seen as threats to your organization. Instead, try to view them as insights that help you improve the workplace. Allow employees to speak up early when they recognize bad behaviors, rather than wait until a line is crossed.
It is incredibly important to have a process in place for handling complaints when they do arise, and to communicate it to your entire company transparently.
Include a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and other unprofessional or problematic behaviors in your onboarding.
Have discussions about diversity and inclusivity in your all-hands.
Make sure that the entire team knows how to behave and becomes actively involved and invested in creating an inclusive work environment.
These practices do not happen passively－they require a concerted and continued effort.
3. Ensure that you’re not using biased technology
One side-effect of a lack of diverse talent is that technology itself becomes biased.
The reason? It’s been built by or tested on specific groups of people.
And this works against diverse candidates.
Tech tools that you use for corporate screening, hiring, and evaluation processes can be discriminatory against underrepresented groups.
To avoid this from happening, test new technologies to see how they perform across different groups to ensure that the tools you use are objective and fair.
As a result, you’ll hire and reward the best-performing candidates and employees.
4. Avoid biases of smaller groups
When groups of people are seriously underrepresented in an organization, they are more often subject to bias.
There are three ways to address the small numbers problem:
- Hire more diverse candidates to increase their numbers
- Make underrepresented groups more visible in the organization
- Assess employee performance in a more objective way, for example by evaluating teams together rather than one-on-one
5. Involve managers from the start
Often, a diversity program will be designed by experts and then sent to managers, who are expected to implement it.
But this approach is backwards. Managers might already have complex systems in place which conflict with diversity initiatives so that they aren’t properly implemented.
Involving managers from the start by making them a part of the design process results in initiatives that work for the entire organization.
Other strategies to improve diversity
Companies can (and should) also take other measures.
These include appointing more women and minorities to leadership positions, hiring or working with more diverse venture capitalists, and funding diverse companies.
Other measures include...
Research by Harvard University professor Frank Dobbin shows that companies achieve greater results by involving employees in diversity policies. Everyone on the team should be encouraged to participate.
Including underrepresented groups in the decision-making process is a simple and obvious way to discover new solutions.
For example, in her book “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recalls how during her pregnancy, she had a hard time walking from her car to her then-employer Google’s lobby.
To address this issue, the company set up parking spots for pregnant women closer to the entrance. Sheryl admits in the book that she hadn’t considered this issue until she experienced it herself. And as an executive, she had the power to address it.
By empowering underrepresented groups to speak up about the obstacles they face in the workplace, you’ll identify measures to take that in hindsight, may seem obvious. It's important that you ask.
These are the types of issues you can solve by asking women, working mothers, LGBT+, people of color, and other marginalized groups for their insights. But you have to ask the questions and involve the relevant people to discover the answers.
Creating better hiring processes
It’s as simple as it gets:
By creating a diverse hiring process, companies hire more often from underrepresented groups and create a more diverse workforce.
Stanford University researchers observed more than 84 recruiting sessions by 66 companies. They identified multiple seemingly obvious ways that female recruits were alienated during the process (everything from showing slides of only men to sexist jokes).
But how can hiring processes like these be avoided?
That’s what we’ll look at next.
Chapter 4: Inclusive hiring in 4 steps
How do you make your hiring process more inclusive?
How do you attract diverse candidates and hire the best developers without letting bias come in the way?
1. Set clear goals
First, identify diversity goals for your hiring process so that you have clear KPIs to track.
A good idea is to set up an internal analysis to get clear on what diversity looks like at your organization today.
Where can you improve?
And what are the steps you can take to get there?
Use SMART goals to get to where you want to be. In other words, goals that are:
For example, perhaps one goal could be “Communicate opportunities to talent which identifies as BIPOC so that at least 15% of inbound applications come from these candidates in the next quarter.”
Only by having actionable KPIs for your hiring can you actually achieve them.
2. Educate applicants on job opportunities
Did you know that you might be missing out on a lot of talent because they simply don’t realize they could apply to your company?
But there’s a simple solution to this:
Show applicants that you are an inclusive employer.
For example, feature stories of employees who belong to marginalized groups on social media, and partner with media outlets and organizations to reach different types of applicants.
This could be as simple as co-hosting a video on a LinkedIn page for female software engineers or writing a guest article in an online publication with a diverse readership.
3. Make your application process more inclusive
Next, create an application process that works for different candidates.
For example, think about how accessible your process is for candidates (a single mother might not be able to come into the office to interview). Make changes or modifications to those processes which allow your candidate pipeline to fill with diverse candidates. If you can afford to be flexible and offer candidates different options without sacrificing fairness, then do it.
Here’s what Franziska Hauck, People Lead & Coach and ex-Google, recommends:
“Companies should ask candidates about their preferences and feedback in the process - what their preferred pronouns are, whether they need any accommodations (for those living with disabilities, chronic illnesses and neurodiversity!), what they would improve and how, etc. Listening is the most powerful tool."
Reach diverse candidates where they are
Attracting a more diverse pool of applicants to apply for tech roles at your company can come down to a few, simple steps.
You see, some studies point to the fact that across all roles and industries, employee referrals are the top source of hire.
If that’s the case for you, then you’re probably experiencing a very homogeneous pool of applicants. We hang out with people who are like us. So if your average developer is white, then they are more likely to bring in referrals for other white developers.
But there are ways to circumvent this.
Take Slack. The company is improving its diversity efforts by proactively seeking out candidates who most tech companies aren’t reaching out to.
For example, plenty of tech companies who compete with Slack for talent will focus on sourcing candidates from MIT or Stanford.
But Slack also recruits through all-women’s coding camps and programs that focus on training black and latinx programmers. The focus is strongly on skills instead of background.
A Pinterest study shows that when the company’s recruiters subtly prompted their engineers to refer underrepresented candidates, they received 55% more referrals for candidates with underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.
Other ideas are to attend meetups for underrepresented groups and career events at diverse locations.
Eliminate excluding language
Did you know that your job description can keep candidates from applying?
It’s true. Research shows that most women only apply to jobs where they feel perfectly qualified.
If you include too many requirements, you’re less likely to see a diverse pool of applicants.
Studies show that words like “competitive”, “dominant”, or “leader” are associated with male stereotypes. These are less appealing to women. The reverse is true for words that are associated with female stereotypes, like “support”, “understand”, and “interpersonal”－these words will draw in more women.
Slack avoids this by featuring phrases like “lasting relationships” and “care deeply”.
On the other hand, Microsoft and Amazon use words like “competing” and “fast-paced environment” (ie. “male” words) which may detract female applicants from applying.
Highlight diversity initiatives online
And finally, make sure you highlight diversity by creating social media posts specifically for diverse talent and including information about your diversity efforts on your career pages and in job descriptions.
By featuring these initiatives, your company will appeal to a broader group of people, and those people will be more comfortable and excited about applying.
4. Set up an interview process for diverse hiring
In our in-depth guide on interviewing developers, we suggest the following hiring process:
1) Review candidates’ resumes and portfolios
2) Hold a phone screen interview
3) Assess candidates’ technical skills
4) Conduct further interviews
However, for the most inclusive hiring practice, you can jump straight to #3.
That’s because assessing candidates’ skills instead of looking at other factors is key to hiring for diversity. (Education and previous employment will only tell you so much.)
Once you have objectively selected the best candidates based on their skill level, you can move on to interviewing them to assess if there’s a personality match (we’ll talk about this in just a minute).
Assessing developers’ skills
But now, you might be wondering:
“So how DO I assess developers’ skills in an objective way?”
After all, assessments can be as biased as the other parts of your hiring process.
In fact, a common way to assess developers’ skills is to use a “whiteboard interview.”
In a whiteboard interview, candidates are asked to solve a coding problem in real-time. This involves showing your thought process in front of a live audience. Stressful, to say the least.
Recent research has shown that whiteboard interviews are terrible for hiring for diversity. According to a study by North Carolina State University, all of the women who participated in whiteboard challenges failed.
But when women whiteboarded privately (without anyone present in the room), they passed.
Slack uses this insight in their own hiring processes.
They changed from whiteboard interviews to take-home coding challenges, ie. coding challenges that developers finish at home and at their own pace.
During the assessment phase, all personal identifiers from a candidate's homework is wiped, and the tasks are then evaluated against a checklist. Slack also made accommodations for candidates with children.
The point is:
Skill assessments that don’t discriminate are key for objective and inclusive hiring.
At CodeSubmit, our own take-home coding challenge software works for companies of all sizes and all types of projects. We’re proud to serve any company looking to hire developer talent.
In fact, our client Babbel used CodeSubmit in its own diversity efforts to assess developers for Neos, a 6-month long paid mentorship program for new and self-taught software engineers.
Overwhelmingly positive, with 94% of candidates completing their challenges. Candidates were also left with a great candidate experience. As one participant put it:
"I found the two tasks very fun to do and adequately challenging. They were presented nicely, the tests were very clear and obvious for the first one, and the option to complete the task in a language of choosing is also great. Very happy with my experience, overall."
(If you want to read more about developer assessment, read our guide here.)
Interviews can easily flop because of bias.
For example, a study of people who evaluated police chiefs shows just how true this can be. Study participants were asked to rate what was more important for the job: education or experience.
When the male candidate was more educated, they opted for education. But when the female candidate had more education, they chose experience.
Slack is a good example of a company that builds fair interview processes.
For each role, the team decides on the characteristics and skills a successful candidate needs.
They then create a list of behavioral questions to assess that information.
“Tell me about a change to your codebase.”
And an important point:
All candidates are asked the same questions.
Thanks to making changes like these, the company saw a 5% increase of women in tech roles in just a year.
In addition to asking standard interview questions, you should train your hiring team to become conscious about their own bias. And be sure to create checks and balances with several hiring managers on your team making hiring decisions.
A great way to understand if your process is working is to look at data from past hiring processes. Do underrepresented groups leave the process at a certain point in the pipeline?
If yes, ask yourself and your hiring team:
How can you improve your process and keep them engaged?
That said, inclusive hiring is only part of the process.
To truly improve diversity in tech, companies also need to retain that talent.
And that’s what we’ll look at next.
Chapter 5: Retain diverse talent
Improving diversity at your company can only take you so far.
If you don’t actively work to retain that talent, you risk losing it. Not only is this bad for your diversity efforts, but a high employee turnover also leads to extra costs and lower productivity.
So, how can you improve your retention rates?
Create an inclusive workplace
First, make sure that your workplace is inclusive.
If women don’t want to talk about their children because they fear they might be seen as less committed, or if lesbian and gay coworkers don’t feel comfortable bringing their partners to work parties, then thats a sign that you don’t have a truly inclusive workplace.
And we’re not just talking about the more obvious discrimination or biases here.
Microaggressions, such as asking a person of color why their English is so good, might seem harmless to the question-asker and are often not at all ill-intentioned, but questions like these are ignorant and hurtful.
Stack up microaggression after microaggression and underrepresented groups will quickly feel unwelcome.
Training can be a great tool for weeding out discriminatory behavior, both intentional and unintentional, and improve the culture internally, creating a more welcoming space for underrepresented groups to work in, and helping you to retain your diverse talent.
For example, as part of its efforts to improve diversity, Pinterest built an inclusive management handbook. It also integrated an unconscious bias training into its orientation.
Ensure that you give the same opportunities to everyone
How do you make sure that your organization isn’t riddled with bias along the corporate ladder?
After all, your diverse talent will (rightfully) leave if they feel that they can’t advance in their careers at the same pace as other employees.
In 2015, 52% of the firm’s new associates were women.
But out of the firm’s 1,510 partners, only 23% were female.
The then-Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Karen Brown, took a closer look at the firm’s engagement survey. She segmented responses from women lawyers and from that data, she realized that not as many women wanted to become partners as their male coworkers.
By following up on their survey, her team was able to analyze what would make partnership more attractive to women. (The answer? Flexibility, access to high-profile engagements, a more diverse firm, and more women role models.)
Baker McKenzie set up an action plan based on these insights. By 2018, the percentage of female partners had gone from 26% to 40%.
The tech field can follow suit. By following up on the state of diversity in YOUR organization, you can find ways to make real change happen.
Ready to start hiring diverse tech talent?
Now you know what diversity in tech looks like and how it can be improved.
(This guide is evolving and we’d love to make it the best guide out there. If you want to add something or make a suggestion, please email us at email@example.com.)