Why We Need the Tech Industry to Embrace Equity

Egalitarianism in the tech industry has the potential to change the trajectory of our entire society.

In the beginning, two of the biggest tech companies were IBM and HP. They embraced inclusivity, and were intentional about hiring women and people of color. Today, most of the leaders in the tech industry who are women or people of color came up through these two companies. Women are graduating with degrees in computer science at a rate of 40 percent, but the total number of women in computer science occupations has steadily declined since the 80s to one fifth, and the number of people of color is much less. If the tech industry can change this downward trajectory in gender and racial diversity in technical roles, our whole society will benefit and that will in turn benefit the tech industry.

Women in STEM as a whole make $16,000 less per year on average than their male counterparts. Salary transparency and the ability to negotiate fair compensation is sorely lacking. Once women have landed a tech job, their prospects for advancement are less, especially into a managerial role. The balance between work and life has also not been acknowledged in tech. According to an article by Stephanie Vossa in Fast Company, a survey of 1000 women in tech showed that “28% of women with children believe they’ve been passed up for a promotion because they are a parent or have other family responsibilities.”

Given all of this, it is not surprising then that women would be leaving technical roles at a rate 45% higher than men. This rate is much too high to be counteracted by efforts to recruit and hire a more diverse workforce.

Racial equity is just as dismal: the US Census Bureau has reported that Black or hispanic employees can expect to make $14,000 less than white male employees in STEM fields. It has been obvious for some time that tech has a gender and racial equity problem, but why does that matter to society?

Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, has committed the last 11 years of her tenure to raising the number of women in computer science. She understands a well functioning society is at stake here. Computer science is permeating our lives and its diversity affects every part of our society.

Klawe notes that the managerial style or culture of companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft is not what has made them successful; they have simply figured out a new way to make a lot of money. Of the path that lies ahead for the tech industry, Klawe says, “What’s facing us is a very, very different future. The haves will be the people who have the skills that are needed, and the have-nots will be the people whose skills are no longer needed—because of automation, because of AI, because of robotics. We don’t know how fast certain kinds of routine jobs will go away, but we do know it will put a further income gap between people who have that kind of education and knowledge and people who don’t. If there are not many women, or people of color, or older people, or low­-income people getting that technical education and those technical jobs, it’s going to further polarize the situation in the country. It’s a question of transforming our society so a large enough fraction of people have opportunities for productive work.”

The way the tech industry addresses inequality from the inside out has the potential to impact the very survival of our society.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. How can equity in the tech industry be supported through public policy?

Q2. What strategies do you see as key for developing innovative diverse teams in tech fields?

Q3. What are some of the most effective ways employees can impact the level of diversity within their organizations?

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