Main image of article Racial Equality in Tech More Important Than Ever, Say Technologists

A series of horrendous events the past few years have again underscored a hard fact about living in the United States: It’s not always welcoming to non-White people. Companies have been forced to re-examine the diversity and inclusion of their respective workforces, as well as systemic racism. Employees, shareholders, and the general public have all been demanding answers for a corporate lack of diversity. 

Tech has long been generally White and male, as revealed by several years’ worth of company diversity reports (AppleMicrosoft, and Amazon are just a few that have released annual or semi-annual ones). Companies have pledged to diversify their workforces—but have those efforts been enough?

Dice’s new Equality in Tech Report recently surveyed the state of racial equality in tech. An overwhelming majority of technologists said it was “extremely important” their company change its policies to foster more racial diversity; most respondents also stated it’s “extremely important” a company have a good reputation for diversity, equity, and inclusion. In additional interviews with technologists, it’s clear that things need to change—now.

“The events of this year have really opened my eyes,” Gaurav Dhillon, Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic, recently told Dice. “It is time to make real, lasting change. This summer, for the first time, I broke my policy of keeping a wall between my business life and my personal, political, and societal views."

Many others are taking Dillion’s new approach to diversity and inclusion. Holly Rachel, co-founder of Rachel + Winfree consulting, said: “As a black woman in tech, I've had a lot of opportunities to think about what true D+I looks like in the tech industry. I like to say, ‘Diversity is a fact, Inclusion is an act.’ … I think tech companies are doing just about as well as most companies in the U.S. when it comes to diversity and inclusion—not that great. Diversity and inclusion in any industry goes beyond hiring more people of color.”

Tina Huang, founder and CTO of Transposit, says that these efforts need to extend to the hiring process, where just a merit-based evaluation is inadequate. “Many companies try to remove bias in the hiring process by focusing on one tangible standard, such as someone’s coding evaluation. However, this method is intrinsically biased as the code itself very subjective.” 

Huang added: “People responsible for hiring talent can eliminate this systematic bias by asking candidates to contextualize their code—explaining the need for that particular code, the timeframe to complete it, the product’s end goal, and the role that code performed to attain it. This helps hiring managers better understand a candidate’s proficiency, thought process, and how they’ll function within the organization.”

Huang’s comments suggest managers should focus on the candidate’s productivity and efficiency, a subtle method for bypassing unconscious bias. All technologists know there are typically many ways to solve a problem or create solutions; a focus on why the solution works rather than a subjective approval of code helps prevent a hiring manager or other evaluator from falling into a bias trap. 

Building Diversity

At the same time, it’s crucial that companies think strategically about how to implement diversity, rather than just enacting a few small actions and declaring everything great. “It’s important that tech companies don’t view diversity and inclusion as another box to check off their list of ‘must-haves for a successful business,” Huang said.

“Bottom line, the tech industry needs to take action,” Dhillon added. “Not every company or every employee is in a position to make the same impact, which is OK. Doing what you can—from speaking out, to giving your time to community programs, to changing a company’s hiring practices, to funding new diverse-led businesses— helps. Every step, no matter how small, will help as long as it's in the right direction.”

Rachel advises a more holistic viewpoint: “Is the company building and maintaining an environment where people of color can thrive? Do people of color have the opportunity to not only be hired, but to be promoted? Are they in leadership roles? Are they on the company board? All of these areas are important to think about when trying to build a truly inclusive company. The tech industry needs to not only focus on hiring non-White talent, but also on listening to their non-White organization members about what they can do to make them feel valued, supported, and as if the company wants to see them succeed.”

A lack of diversity is felt in tech. Across racial lines, respondents in Dice’s study feel diversity improves morale, profitability, innovation, and collaboration. But non-White respondents say they feel underpaid and more frequently witness discrimination for promotions, opportunity, and hiring than white respondents.

Only nine percent of White respondents to Dice’s survey report experiencing racial discrimination in the workplace. That stands in stark contrast to the 48 percent of black respondents who say they have, as well as 30 percent of Hispanic/Latino, 25 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander, and 23 percent of Asian Indian respondents.

Technologists of Color like their jobs and careers, but don’t feel they have the same opportunities as White technologists. To Rachel’s point, hiring non-white technologists is only the first step. Companies such as Apple and Microsoft like to point to their hiring statistics as a measure of success; but perhaps the perception of inclusion and workplace respect is the true benchmark. Tech companies might have a long way to go on that front, too.