Five Years of Tech Diversity Reports—and Little Progress

tech diversity report

In 2014, when Silicon Valley companies began disclosing the demographics of their workforces, advocates hoped for change. It hasn’t worked out that way.

It’s been five years since Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft first released diversity reports, revealing the companies’ workforces were overwhelmingly white or Asian men. Five years since Facebook first acknowledged it had “more work to do—a lot more,” and CEO Tim Cook wrote Apple employees a letter promising the company would be “as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing products.”

Since then, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn and expanded in the cloud, Facebook gained roughly 1 billion monthly active users, Google achieved quantum supremacy, and Apple released the Apple Watch, Airpods, and iPhones 6s through 11. Despite their business successes, though, none of these big tech companies has made much progress in diversifying their workforces.

The numbers are particularly stark among technical workers—the coders, engineers, and data scientists who make these companies hum. At Google and Microsoft, the share of US technical employees who are black or Latinx rose by less than a percentage point since 2014. The share of black technical workers at Apple is unchanged at 6 percent, less than half blacks’ 13 percent share of the US population.

The companies report more progress for women. At Facebook, the technical workforce is 23 percent female, up from 15 percent in 2014; Google reports similar gains. But no company is close to parity, despite having repeatedly pledged millions to address the problem.

Amazon does not report demographics for its tech workforce, making it impossible to gauge the retail giant’s progress on diversity against other big tech companies. Amazon says almost 42 percent of its workers were women, and almost 42 percent of its US workers black or Latinx, at the end of last year. But those numbers include the vast majority of Amazon’s 647,000 employees who work in its distribution centers.

Freada Kapor Klein, a founding partner at venture capital firm Kapor Capital and a longtime advocate for diversity in tech, is baffled by how differently tech companies treat their diversity investments from other business initiatives. “If you wasted a billion dollars and nowhere near met your target, you wouldn’t get your bonus, you wouldn’t have a job. And yet there seem to be no consequences,” she says. “Despite all the words, despite all the money, despite all the platitudes and initiatives, it’s hard to say that the companies are really taking it seriously.” (read more)

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