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Workplace Culture Driving Women and Minorities out of IT

By Melissa J. Anderson

The IT industry faces more than a pipeline problem when it comes to increasing the retention of diverse employees. According to a new report by The Level Playing Field Institute, an exclusionary culture may be the bigger problem in keeping women and underrepresented people of color within the technology workforce.

The report, based on anonymous survey data from 645 engineers and managers, showed that women and minorities had significantly more negative workplace experiences than male or white employees at every size of tech company. Additionally, individuals who reported more negative experiences (like bullying, difficulty balancing work/family, exclusionary cliques, etc.) were more likely to want to leave their company within the next year.

The report says:

“The findings bring to light the substantial differences in workplace experiences based on race and gender that occur across large company and startup work environments and document the significant impact that negative workplace experiences have on job satisfaction and turnover.”

The workplace culture of IT is driving women and minorities away. Here’s how.

Beliefs about Diversity Shaped by Gender and Ethnicity

According to the study, whites and males were more likely to be skeptical about the value of diversity. For example, on 54 percent of those surveyed in either group said they believed that “Diverse teams are better at problem solving and innovation.”

Similarly, 74 percent of males and 72 percent of whites felt that their company spends the right amount of time on diversity issues. Only 51 percent of women and 61 percent of underrepresented people of color felt that way. Eighty percent of underrepresented people of color and 66 percent of women said they were “in favor of a company-wide hiring practice to increase diversity.” Only 44 percent of males and 46 percent of whites said they were in favor of a company wide diversity program.

The studies show that, on average, those in the majority – white males – don’t see a lack of diversity as a problem. On the other hand, women and underrepresented people of color want to see more diversity. Likely those who experience the negative cultural impact of a lack of diversity are the ones who want to solve the problem.

Bad Work Experiences Due to Cultural Dysfunction

Based on this research, it seems that white males could be working at a completely different company than women and people of color.

For example, only 41 percent of men said they experienced exclusionary cliques, while 54 percent of women did. But it seems that race played a greater role here than gender. Sixty-six percent of underrepresented people of color experienced exclusionary cliques, while 35 percent of non-underrepresented people of color and 45 percent of whites said they had been impacted by exclusionary cliques.

A full 40 percent of underrepresented people of color said they had been mistaken for another individual of the same race or gender, while only 18 percent of whites had.

Over a quarter of women surveyed (27 percent) said they had experienced unwanted sexual teasing, jokes or questions. And over a third of underrepresented people of color (34 percent) said they had experienced unwanted racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural jokes. Thirty percent of women said the same.

And, particularly for women, the environment at large companies was especially unpleasant. Women working for larger companies reported significantly more negative experiences than those at smaller ones – for example a quarter of women at large companies reported being bullied (compared to the average of 16 percent), and 65 percent of women at large companies said they had experienced exclusionary cliques (compared to the average of 44 percent).

The report says:

“… there are unique elements of the workplace and culture that are unwelcoming to diverse members and that create negative experiences for underrepresented individuals. These experiences result in an uneven and unequal playing field rather than a meritocracy.”

Individuals who reported negative workplace experiences were more likely to be looking for a new job. And at a time when companies need all of their employees to be fully engaged and productive, they should be working to fix the cultural problems that are pushing their employees out.

Tech companies are pouring money into programs designed to interest young women and people of color in technology. But this money will be wasted if once those individuals enter the IT workforce, they find it hostile to them. Companies in the IT sector need to focus on fixing the cultural issues that make it permissible to harass, bully, and exclude those of diverse backgrounds. This study shows that, to many in the majority, those hostile actions may be going unobserved.

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