Remote Work Is How Tech Companies Can Increase Diversity

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Tech hubs are becoming less diverse as they get more expensive

Tech companies embraced the diversity train in a very public manner in 2014, when the release of the first diversity reports set off a wave of calls for change. Arguably, not much has changed in the last five years. The percentages of racial minorities in technical positions have hardly budged. Women see slightly higher increases, but they are still a significant minority. Minority groups face significant challenges around the diversity and inclusion mentality prevalent in the workplace. There is a long way to go before underrepresented employees no longer have to deal with ignorant comments and other challenges associated with being among the first in a homogeneous space.

But one point is missing in nearly every conversation on diversity: the importance of remote work.

Few large tech companies have clearly defined remote work policies. Smaller tech companies are jumping on the train. There are Github repositories listing companies with primarily remote teams and entire websites devoted to the benefits of remote work that include promising lists of companies. But the big tech companies that publicly committed themselves to diversity five years ago have mostly failed to seriously discuss remote work in the context of diversity.

To be fair, remote work is challenging for both employees and employers. It takes time and thought to set up. Establishing an office culture that encourages productive work from remote locations also takes serious thought, especially for companies that weren’t founded on the basis of remote work.

But remote work is essential for any company serious about their diversity initiatives for at least three reasons: geographic diversity, office culture, and productivity needs.

The geographic hubs of tech are becoming less diverse as they get more expensive

The geographic regions with the highest numbers of tech companies are also among the most expensive cities in the country. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that five metropolitan areas accounted for 90% of all U.S. tech job growth between 2005 and 2017 — Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and San Jose, California. An Investopedia report from mid-2019 found that all but one of these areas (Seattle) are among the top 10 most expensive cities in the U.S.

This isn’t a meaningless correlation. With growing numbers of tech companies in certain regions, tech salaries and tech lifestyles drive prices up. Higher yearly salaries lead to rising housing prices, which exacerbate gentrification and neighborhood segregation.

This also leads to a decline in racial and ethnic diversity. Take San Francisco as an example: A report from the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015 discussed the difference in demographic maps from 1980 and those from 2015 when the white population is increasing while most others were decreasing. The African American population, in particular, was declining, from 13% in 1970 to 8% in 2015. PolicyLink projected that it would be 5% by 2040.

Then in 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the percentage of Black San Franciscans was a mere 5.5%.

Tech companies in the Bay Area and other locations with similar demographic trends are going to have a hard time locating diverse employees and convincing them to move to the area as overall diversity in the region continues to drop. It’s harder to find a sense of community, harder to find good hairstylists, and harder to find Black-centric grocery stores and restaurants when this is the reality. So often, these are significant factors in the choice of whether or not to move. For folks without family in the region, these factors, combined with the high cost of living, are uninspiring.

Hiring remotely avoids the need to relocate, and thus avoids many of these issues. Folks are able to stay in the communities in which they are comfortable and still be active contributors to the teams they join. Happiness found outside of work remains high, something that research shows is of paramount importance to maintaining job satisfaction and high performance. Remote working increases the pool of candidates likely to join a company and decreases the nonwork-related reasons they may turn down a job offer.

It also indicates an awareness on behalf of the company that not all employees have tech-centric lives and might want to maintain the ways they presently structure their time even as they move companies. (read more)

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