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One reason for the tech industry’s Great Resignation: lack of diversity

A survey from educational publisher Wiley finds failure to fix equity and inclusion issues can make tech workers unhappy and even drive them out the door.

One reason for the tech industry’s Great Resignation: lack of diversity
[Source image: Brankospejs/iStock]
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There were more than 10 million jobs open in the United States at the end of June, the highest number on record, according to recently released Labor Department data.

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To explain the record-breaking number of openings, some experts have pointed to what they call the Great Resignation, in which vast numbers of people have left their jobs in recent months of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving some employers scrambling to fill positions. In the tech field, a new report from the academic publishing giant Wiley suggests part of the issue is the industry’s long struggles to achieve workplace diversity and equity.

In a survey of 2,030 workers between the ages of 18 and 28 conducted in July, the company found that 50% said they had left or wanted to leave a tech or IT job “because the company culture made them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable,” with a higher percentage of women and Asian, Black, and Hispanic respondents each saying they had such an experience. And 68% of respondents said they have felt uncomfortable in a tech role because of “their gender/ethnicity/socio-economic background or neurodevelopmental condition,” according to the Wiley report.

“It’s estimated that U.S. companies collectively are spending more than ever before—about $8 billion a year—on diversity and inclusion training,” said Todd Zipper, president of Wiley Education Services, in a statement. “This report proves that investment alone isn’t enough to achieve equity in the workplace.”

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The tech industry has been facing increasing scrutiny over diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in recent years, especially after 2020’s racial justice protests, when many companies promised to do more to support and recruit Black employees. A Fast Company survey of 42 top tech companies found they committed nearly $4 billion to DEI efforts after last summer’s protests.

But many tech companies have continued to face criticism and allegations of racism and misogyny. Google was criticized throughout the industry after suddenly firing the highly regarded AI researcher Timnit Gebru, a Black woman, and advocates have said lack of diversity in AI in general has contributed to racial bias in facial recognition software and other prominent AI tools. Video game giant Activision Blizzard was recently sued by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination, with women of color said to be “particularly vulnerable targets.” Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations.

In general, the Wiley report found that 68% of businesses surveyed acknowledged a lack of diversity in their tech teams, with many saying they’re working to fix it. The report also found that 64% of those surveyed “said they believe people from minority backgrounds are discriminated against in the recruitment process for technology jobs.” Gender differences also appear to enter the tech world starting at an early age: The report indicates male survey respondents were more likely to say they were encouraged into tech careers by their high schools and colleges. Perhaps unsurprisingly, women surveyed were also more likely than their male counterparts to say they were concerned about their tech job qualifications.

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“With such a persistent lack of gender diversity in the tech industry, and women’s job prospects disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, we must ensure that male and female students are treated equally, right from the beginning of their educations if we are to address these imbalances in the long term,” the report says.

The study also found that the majority of businesses reported having trouble recruiting diverse, entry-level tech talent and suggested they try to recruit from a more diverse pool, including a greater number of universities. The report also recommended formal mentorship programs for entry-level workers and an investment in unconscious bias training, as well as taking steps to make hiring more fair like anonymizing resumes and avoiding word choices in job ads that can repel certain candidates.

“With nine million unfilled jobs currently in the U.S., the economy will continue to struggle as it experiences a labor shortage, especially if companies are ill-equipped to recruit and retain a diverse tech workforce,” said Daniele Grassi, chief operating officer for Mthree, a Wiley unit focused on employee training, in a statement. “Expanding and diversifying talent pipelines will get great workers in high-demand tech jobs faster, benefiting both companies and workers.”

About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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