Diversity Data: A Deeper Look

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The technology sector is growing at a rate 3 times faster than that of the rest of the private sector, as reported by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, and it is expected to host 1.8 million The The technology sector is growing at a rate 3 times faster than that of the rest of the private sector, as reported by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, and it is expected to host 1.8 million jobs by 2018. Yet, diversity in technology is crawling along, percentage point by precious percentage point, particularly in Silicon Valley, which is historically lacking in diversity. According to NPR, Hispanics comprise only 4 percent of all employees in Silicon Valley, for example, and women are hardly at one-fourth.Additionally, the percentage of women in the sector is declining. In 1991, women occupied 36 percent of positions in information technology, whereas they held only 25 percent of IT jobs in 2008. A common explanation for the gender gap in technology is “the pipeline,” or the idea that women are originally uninterested in pursuing an education in computational subjects. However, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women earned 50.4 percent of science and engineering degrees in 2011. Furthermore, the pipeline cannot explain the decline in representation from the early ’90s.

Getting under-represented communities interested in STEM isn’t the only or even the biggest issue, according to the statistics. Hiring and retention have had major effects on the lack of women and people of color in the technology industry, especially in leadership positions.
Increasingly, technology companies are releasing diversity data, or the demographic breakdown of their employees, in an effort to locate such gaps in representation within their respective workforces. Among the companies to do so are Amazon, Apple, Dell, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, Twitter, Yahoo, and Yelp. It is a startlingly new practice, while the publication of diversity data among non-technology companies is a tradition.

For example, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which oversees over 125,000 solicitors throughout England and Wales, requires the 11,000 firms it regulates to collect and report diversity data. The organization calls the practice “diversity monitoring” and maintains that the publication of workforce diversity will encourage the equality of opportunity in the legal profession. In the United States, the Association of American Medical Colleges releases a bimonthly newsletter called Diversity Data Snapshots. The tech sector, meanwhile, is somewhat unique in that it struggles to be transparent in its demographics, perhaps because, when released, the data is lambasted by the media.

According to Fortune, in an article titled “See how the big tech companies compare on employee diversity,” only three years ago several tech companies published their diversity data for the first time and “the numbers confirmed the doubters’ worst suspicions: Minorities accounted for just a tiny fraction of most of the companies’ workforces and no company could say that women made up 50 percent of its employees.” Although the numbers may appear disheartening, the publication of the data is itself an achievement, as accessing it is prerequisite to legitimizing the argument for new practices in hiring or, too, initiatives in the reduction of attrition for women and minority employees.

In doing so, however, the methodology of data collection is an important consideration, as the interpretation of data is partially dependent on the means of its collection. The Australian software company Atlassian released its diversity data for the first time in March and pioneered the examination of representation at the team-level, a potential improvement from the more numerical approach taken by peer companies.

Founded in 2002, this enterprise software corporation develops products for software developers, project managers, and content management, serving over 80% of the Fortune 100.

“The sort of ethos behind the way that we did the report is that our whole company is based around teams. How diverse is my workforce? I can tell you how many women work at my company, but if they’re all working together, and if all the men are working together, what happens is we don’t actually have any diversity,” Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion Aubrey Blanche said. “We broke down all of our teams internally. We got pretty granular. At the time of the report, 14 percent of our employees performing technical functions are women. Of our 77 teams focusing on software development, 66 percent have women on them. That tells a very different story.”

The report also includes age and sexual identity, as well as cross-national data, of which Atlassian is the first tech company to release.

“We wanted to complement the corporate data. We wanted to look not just at gender and race. There are other groups that are silent and not talked about, like [those] over 40 or working on either internationally distributed teams or countries that are not their country of origin,” Blanche said. “An increase in representation isn’t the same thing as an increase in diversity. That’s why we’re looking at this deeper, more granular data. It tells us more interesting things and helps me make effective programs.”

An example of such a program is the organization of groups of about 10 women who learn professional skills from each other.

“At the corporate level, we’re investing heavily in women’s mentorship with mentoring rings, which [comprise] women who are in a single peer group and tend to be around the same level of experience. We believe that everyone has an amazing skill, like the person in the group who’s really good at public speaking or the woman who’s comfortable with negotiation. It’s a way for those women to get development in a safe space. We’re investing in their confidence and creating cross-team communities so that they feel included and have a sense of belonging, even if they’re not working with someone that looks like them.”

According to Forbes, the attrition rate for women is double that of men, with 56 percent leaving the technology sector between the ages of 25 and 34.

“Women are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to leave the industry. We used the [diversity] data to create programs that bolster confidence and help with maintaining the women that we have at Atlassian,” Blanche said. “We’ve also seen more grassroots, employee-driven programs. For example, our biggest engineering center and headquarters is in Sydney. All the new starters that are women get invited to a chat-room and are given the option to sign up for coffee dates. They’re [then] randomly assigned to have coffee with another woman in the office. There’s no agenda—we don’t administer the program at all. An employee wrote a script. It’s a great way to feel integrated, and it’s also useful from a business perspective. Having a relationship with a coworker who [specializes] in something else might help [an employee] get [her] job done better.”

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Raasha Suleman
Raasha Suleman earned her B.A. in Cognitive Science and Psychology from Rice University and is currently studying Law. Her interests include mental health and the criminal justice system, particularly recidivism and racial profiling.