One year after protests against police brutality shook much of the corporate world awake to the problems of racial equity in the workplace, Fast Company took a hard look at what’s changed—and what hasn’t—within the biggest technology companies in the country.
A cornerstone of the Black in Tech project—created in collaboration with The Plug, a publication covering the Black innovation economy—was a survey that went out to 42 of the largest and most important U.S.-based technology companies with over 1,000 employees that Fast Company covers. These companies’ market capitalizations, as of May 6 of this year, range from $2.8 billion (Yelp) to $2.1 trillion (Apple); our financial data is current as of June 14.
Thirty-seven technology giants responded to our queries and agreed to participate in the project. Stripe and Roku declined to participate, and Tesla, SpaceX, and Coinbase did not respond to repeated requests. For companies that did not participate, we searched for any public information about commitments or policy changes, and included those findings in the final project.
Pieces of this data set, which encapsulates the public financial commitments made by these companies, as well as the changes made to their policies and procedures in the last year, are highlighted in data visualizations, which you can see here. But it’s worth unpacking this data more.
One of the biggest trends in tech over the last year is financial commitments to improving racial equity both within individual tech companies’ walls, as well as across the country at large. While some companies have made commitments to racial justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) before, it has never happened collectively on the same scale it did in 2020. Notably, after police killed Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson in 2014, no major tech companies made any statements or donations (though Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who was executive chairman at the time, did tweet about it and attended the protests in person).
Cumulatively, the tech giants we surveyed have committed a total of $3.8 billion toward DEI in 2020 and 2021, in various forms. The largest chunk of these funds—$2.9 billion, or 75%—have gone toward initiatives that support Black-owned businesses. That includes venture capital funding deployed specifically toward Black founders, as well as funds earmarked for Black-owned suppliers.
Eleven percent of the commitments, a total of $422.5 million, is going toward racial justice organizations, often taking the form of direct donations to nonprofits. About 10% of the commitments, $375.1 million, were committed to educational initiatives. These sorts of commitments are sometimes framed as an effort to solve the “pipeline problem”—the often-contested claim that tech’s diversity woes are due to a lack of qualified Black people to hire. The remaining money has been allocated to undesignated or internal commitments; very few companies shared their internal DEI spend. In addition, a few companies, including Microsoft, Netflix, and Yelp, included loans and deposits into Black-owned banks as part of their commitments.
While these numbers seem substantial, it’s important to compare companies’ commitments to their operating income. We took a look at companies which answered our survey that had an operating income of over $100 million in 2020, and analyzed how many days it would take for their profits to surpass their total commitments to racial equity. The results were stark.
Apple, which committed $100 million, will make that money in profit in less than a day. But even the largest tech companies that committed substantially more—like Microsoft ($772.5 million), Alphabet/Google ($418 million), and Facebook ($347 million)—make their commitments back in profit in between three and six days.
There are some standouts on the list. PayPal, which made $3.3 billion in operating income in 2020, would take almost two months of profit to pay for its substantial $535 million commitment. In addition, Salesforce, which made $422 million in operating income in 2020, has committed the vast majority of it—$402.2 million—to various diversity and equity initiatives.
These comparisons reveal how companies’ financial commitments are best understood in the context of how much money they make; even some of the largest dollar amounts begin to look small in this context. As surveillance expert Chris Gilliard puts it, “it’s not even couch-cushion money to them.”
Along with asking companies about their financial commitments to equity, we also asked them a range of questions about their policies that can indicate a company is attempting to improve its DEI. (It’s important to note that not all policy changes are equal. Critics have suggested that some moves, like making Juneteenth a holiday, don’t result in a systemic change to company culture).
One movement that’s taken place is a push to bring more Black people on to boards of directors, and we found this reflected in the data. While 71% of companies surveyed currently have a Black board member, 37% of those companies appointed their first Black board member in 2020 or 2021. Twenty-nine percent of companies surveyed do not currently have a Black board member.
We found that tech companies are split on requiring anti-bias or anti-racism training. According to our survey, 48% of companies require it for all employees. Thirty-one percent made it mandatory for all employees starting in 2020 or 2021. It is not mandatory for all employees at 35% of companies. Included in this bucket are companies that have made the decision to make it mandatory for all managers, or all hiring managers, but not for all employees. For instance, an Uber spokesperson told us it has mandatory training on unconscious bias and microaggressions for leaders and has a training program focused on anti-bias for new employee and manager onboarding, but doesn’t require that training for all employees because research suggests it doesn’t have the “desired impact.”
One noteworthy shift that’s just starting to take place is who a company’s DEI head reports to; for the vast majority of the companies who responded to our survey, the DEI head reports to the chief people officer, or equivalent. A small handful—including Facebook, Pinterest, Peloton, and Etsy—have their head of DEI reporting to either the CEO or the head of operations. These changes were made in 2020 or 2021, after the racial justice protests. Only one company—Yelp—had this kind of reporting structure in place before the protests. Its head of DEI has reported to the COO since 2016.
Giving employees Juneteenth as a paid company holiday is another change that’s occurred in the last year. About half of companies surveyed now close their offices for Juneteenth, starting in 2020. No company had offered Juneteenth as a holiday previously.
Overall, we found that about two-thirds of companies had made some kind of DEI policy change after the summer 2020 protests. It should be noted that several companies already had the policies we asked about in place before 2020.
A year isn’t a long time to create systemic change, and it’s still unclear if any of the changes we’ve catalogued will end tech’s long track record of undervaluing and exploiting Black employees. Based on the interviews featured in the Black in Tech project, workers just want to be paid and treated fairly; if companies can’t meet those basic requirements, having a Black board member, giving everyone a paid holiday, or donating millions certainly won’t solve the problem.
We are publishing and analyzing this data to hold these companies accountable for their promises, since without transparency change will be even further out of reach. Fast Company will continue to follow how these commitments impact tech workers and users in the years to come.
Experience the full Black in Tech project here.