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Is the Tech Industry Ignoring the Importance of Workplace Diversity?

By Jesse Lent

Some of the tech companies that we give our most personal information to, are not so forthcoming about providing such data of their own — particularly it turns out, when disclosing statistics on the diversity of their workforce.

In a recent CNN investigative report on the lack of woman and minorities within Silicon Valley, the cable news station requested a breakdown of the demographics of 20 tech companies. Only three of the companies responded.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

Among those that refused to provide their workplace diversity data were social networking websites Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and online auction eBay. Of the three organizations that did agree to provide this information: Dell, Ingram Micro and Intel, two of them have a workforce comprised of predominantly white men.

According to Intel’s own data, African American workers account for a mere 3.5 percent of the company’s domestic workforce and only 1.3 percent of its top officials. Hispanics comprise only three percent of management positions. Of the 137 top executives at Dell, there are no Latinos and only one African American.

Additionally, roughly one quarter of Dell’s employees are women (6,173 employees out of a reported 24,042). They also make up only 31.6 percent of Intel’s workforce.

However, what is equally disturbing to Jenny Slade, spokesperson for National Center for Women & Information Technology is the fact that only 15 percent of the tech companies petitioned were willing to provide their information.

“This is a big deal because, as is often quoted, ‘what gets measured gets managed,’” Slade said. “As a non-profit coalition whose membership includes many of [the companies who refused] we’re in very much the same position as CNN… we too have trouble getting these companies to divulge their data.”

She adds that diversity issues within the field of technology can have substantial consequences in today’s marketplace. “The truth is that there is plenty of motivation to seek diversity for the right reasons from a sheer jobs perspective,” Slade said. “The technology workforce is adding jobs at a faster rate – 22 percent — than all other sectors of the economy overall.”

Some Progress

Though CNN’s diversity findings were not all completely negative. Compared to national averages of Asian workers between the ages of 25 and 64, Dell, Ingram Micro and Intel have an average of 20 percent, 15 percent higher than the national average.

This is in contrast to Hispanic employees who comprised nine percent of the three tech companies’ workforce, compared to the national average of 15 percent or African-American employees make up six percent of the workforce at Dell, Ingram Micro and Intel compared to the national average of 11 percent.

The data for the CNN study was taken from last year’s EEO-1 forms, documentation that any company with more than 100 employees is required to file with the federal government. The one page form filed with an independent organization called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, outlines the self-identified race and sex of each employee at the company.

CNN conducted the study as part of a documentary called “The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley,” part of the network’s “Black in America” series. The documentary follows eight African-Americans who look to break out as businessmen in the white-dominated technology world.

Causes

But what is the reason for this apparent lack of diversity in Silicon Valley? As Zynga executive Colleen McCreary told CNN, perhaps it is simply a lack of minority and female applicants graduating from technical colleges, what they call in the industry a “pipeline problem.”

“The workplace begins to look like the classrooms for those majors: filled with men and not as many women.” McCreary said.

However Slade points out that an investment in diversity can pay off dividends in the success of a company.

“From an innovation perspective, there’s a wealth of evidence showing that gender diversity correlates with a better return on investment and yields teams that are more creative and better at solving problems,” she said. “Any company that is marketing its products and services to a broad demographic is best-served by having a broad demographic represented within its company.”

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