What does it mean to be “underrepresented” in technology? by Caroline Simard

Last week, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology released a report on underrepresented minorities in the high-tech industry. In the report, I present the results of our survey of seven high-tech companies in Silicon Valley as they pertain to underrepresented minorities. We find that only 6.8% of technical employees in these companies are underrepresented.

What do we mean by “underrepresented minority”? The accepted definition of “underrepresented minorities” from the National Science Foundation and other major research institutions focuses on racial and ethnic groups whose representation in a profession is significantly below their representation in the general population. For the US, this includes African American/black, Hispanic American/Latino, and Native American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. While any non-majority group in the workplace is a “minority”, they are not considered to be “underrepresented” unless their race/ethnic representation in the general population is higher than their representation in the profession.

We find 6.8% technical employees who are from underrepresented backgrounds, with the following breakdowns (some individuals identify as multi-racial):

African American/Black: 1.8%
Native American: 1.3%
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.6%
Hispanic/Latino: 3.7%

Considering that underrepresented minorities represent 27% of the US population, 6.8% in technical positions in this Silicon Valley sample is indeed real underrepresentation. We find that Hispanic, African-American and Native women suffer from a double dose of underrepresentation due to race and gender, and are especially absent from the higher levels of the technical ladder.

More disturbingly, we find that 51% of underrepresented women and 34% of underrepresented minority men are looking to leave their employers. Other research from the Level Playing Field Institute has shown that men and women of color were more likely to cite unfairness as a reason for leaving their employer.