Intel became the latest tech company to report diversity statistics Tuesday, sharing a mixed bag of annual numbers that included small gains in some areas, relatively flat numbers of Black employees and a decline in female representation in the U.S.
Why it matters: Intel, which was one of the first Big Tech companies to commit significant dollars to addressing racial and gender inequality, has nonetheless struggled, like its peers, to make continuous and significant progress toward a more diverse workforce.
Details: Women made up a bit more than a quarter of Intel’s employee headcount, seeing a tiny drop in the U.S. compared to last year and a similarly minuscule increase over the same period for Intel’s total global workforce.
The percentage of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. workforce ticked up by a fraction of a percentage point, coming in at just over 16%. African American representation was flat at 4.9%.
What they’re saying:“It may be slower than we would like but at least the conversation is on the table,” Intel’s interim chief diversity and inclusion officer Dawn Jones told Axios. (Former diversity chief Barbara Whye recently announced she was leaving Intel to take over the top diversity role at Apple.)
The big picture: Intel’s inability to significantly boost the diversity of its workforce is far from unique in the industry.
Plus, tech’s story on race isn’t just about the numbers. As we’ve recently written, it’s about how much power is concentrated at the top of companies, largely in the hands of white men.
It’s also about systemic discrimination and harassment reported by Black and brown employees and women — including recent controversies at Coinbase and Google.
Workers who left Google, Uber and Pinterest in highly charged incidents during a year of racial-equity protests tell MarketWatch what they saw and experienced
As the nation’s racial-justice issues were thrust into the spotlight this year, so were the tech industry’s longstanding problems with race.
Tech companies proclaimed their commitment to diversity after widespread protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May, and as the coronavirus pandemic both highlighted and exacerbated inequity. But within those same companies, tensions boiled over.
Tech has been singing the diversity tune for nearly a decade, but their workforce demographics numbers have barely budged. They have invested in diversity programs, rolled out initiatives and set specific goals, but as examples of discrimination, harassment and wage gaps persist, significant change from within seems as far away as ever.
The external pressure is mounting. California this year passed a law that will require publicly held corporations to add members of underrepresented groups to their board of directors, and Nasdaq Inc. NDAQ, 0.43%has proposed requiring diversity on boards that list on its exchange. An investment group is urging Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, -0.54% to examine how it treats its “human capital.” An institutional shareholder is asking Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, -0.03% to perform a racial-equity audit. Other shareholders are filing derivative lawsuits over diversity, sexual harassment and more.
Lisa Lambert, a Black venture capitalist who spent two decades at Intel and is now chief technology and innovation officer at National Grid, as well as founder and president of National Grid Partners, said companies need to realize the market opportunity they’re missing out on by falling short on diversity. They need to tie executive and other compensation to progress on diversifying their workforces, she said.
There still is “not enough outside pressure [on companies], but I’m optimistic about what isgoing on,” she said. “You’re one bad article from a stock that falls dramatically.”
Some of the loudest calls for change are coming from former tech employees themselves. MarketWatch talked with some of the employees at the center of controversies involving Pinterest, Google and Uber. In their view, the companies’ actions mean more than their words, and diversity-related donations and initiatives such as employee resource groups have largely failed to make a big difference.
All three companies declined to discuss the specific cases or make their diversity managers and executives available for interviews.
Ifeoma Ozoma worked at Google, Facebook Inc. FB, 0.26% and, most recently, Pinterest. She left Pinterest over the summer after complaining of unequal pay, racism and sexism she experienced in her role as a public policy and social-impact manager.
She said many Silicon Valley companies hold up diversity initiatives as a sign that they care about racial justice, but that it’s all for show.
“I can’t think of a company that really believes [in diversity],” she said in an interview with MarketWatch. “I think it’s B.S. at every company in the valley. There’s a diversity grift right now.” Ozoma said real change will come from companies facing legal and financial consequences. “You cannot change systems of oppression in comfort,” she added.
Pinterest faced a financial consequence: It settled a discrimination lawsuit by Françoise Brougher, its former chief operating officer, for $20 million after she alleged sexist treatment, including unequal pay. The settlement also includes “a commitment of $2.5 million to be used toward advancing women and underrepresented communities in the technology industry,” according to Pinterest’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
But Brougher came forward after Ozoma and another Black woman at Pinterest, Aerica Shimizu Banks, left the company and talked publicly about their experiences. The severance the two Black women received — less than one year of salary — pale in comparison to the settlement that Brougher, who is white, secured.
“What does it say that righting wrongs with the Black women who started all of this can be equated to giving money to some unnamed charity cases?” Ozoma said. “We’re not charity cases. We deserve to be made whole and apologized to for the harm done.”
She said that means she and Banks should be compensated for the salary and stock they lost when they were “retaliated out of the jobs in which we were excelling.”
A Pinterest spokesman said the company does not comment on legal matters. As a result of a five-month investigation into its culture after the three women’s high-profile departures, the company said it intends to make changes based on recommendations by a special committee of its board.
As for legal consequences, a shareholder group has sued Pinterest over the case of Ozoma and Banks as well as Brougher, accusing the company and its top executives of systemic racial and gender discrimination. Louise Renne, the onetime city attorney for San Francisco, filed the lawsuit against Pinterest on behalf of the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island. Renne Public Law Group also has pending diversity-related lawsuits against other companies including Oracle Corp. ORCL, -0.07%, Facebook and Cisco.
In September, Renne Group settled shareholder lawsuits against Google stemming from the company’s handling of sexual misconduct accusations by its former executives. Among other things, Google made a $310 million commitment to diversity programs over the next decade, and agreed to limit restrictions on confidentiality related to settlement of harassment claims.
“The theory of our lawsuits is that everybody talks a good game, but when it comes into practice there is a real deficiency,” Renne said. “What we see now is lip service, or companies putting in SEC statements that they’re committed to diversity and inclusion. Then nothing happens.”
Or something could happen to prompt calls of hypocrisy: Just a couple of months after that multimillion-dollar commitment to diversity, Google faced backlash after the departure of Timnit Gebru, a Black woman and renowned artificial-intelligence researcher. She raised concerns related to diversity issues at the company as well as a research paper she and her team were working on that the company wanted her to retract, and said she had asked to discuss those concerns with management.
Instead, Gebru tweeted that Google abruptly cut off access to her corporate account and informed her it accepted her resignation. Jeff Dean, head of Google AI, said publicly that she resigned, but her team backs Gebru’s version of events.
A Google spokeswoman said the company has no further comment about Gebru’s exit.
Shortly after Gebru’s departure, former Google recruiter April Christina Curley said in a tweet thread that she was fired in September after being retaliated against for advocating for “Black and brown students to be fairly and justly considered for roles at Google.”
A Google spokeswoman said last week that the company last year “welcomed graduates” from 19 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). She also sent a statement that reads in part: “We have a large team of recruiters who work incredibly hard to increase the hiring of Black+ and other underrepresented talent at Google, including a dedicated team that partners and strengthens our relationships with HBCUs. … We don’t agree with the way April describes her termination, but it’s not appropriate for us to provide a commentary about her claims.”
These are just the latest employee controversies for Google. The news about Gebru came the day before the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against the company, saying it violated labor laws last year in the termination of two employees who were organizing workers.
Google was among the first tech companies to release its workplace demographics numbers in 2014, after years of pressure to diversify workforces from the news media and groups such as Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Now it regularly shares information about its demographics, pay and diversity goals. Like other companies, it also has employee resource groups, or ERGs; Chief Executive Sundar Pichai announced in June that Google would double down on improving Black representation at the company after he had a meeting with its Black ERG.
But Irene Knapp, a software engineer and founding member of the trans employee resource group at Google who left the company last year, told MarketWatch that for the past two years, they saw an “apparent goal of trying to reduce the extent of diversity initiatives. The company became afraid to say the word ‘diversity.’”
Likewise, Laurence Berland, one of the employees the NLRB said was terminated illegally by Google, told MarketWatch he became “disillusioned about ERGs and diversity initiatives in general” at the company. He was involved with the gay and Jewish ERGs and said they sometimes got in the way of getting people “to understand what true organizing is.”
Knapp said the groups do some good in that they highlight issues that need attention. “At the same time, [they’re] a form of controlled opposition,” they added.
Eddy Hernandez, a former employee at Uber, eventually came to see the company’s stated commitment to diversity in a negative light.
An engineer who belonged to the company’s Latino employee-resource group Los Ubers, he voiced his concerns about Uber drivers’ working conditions at the beginning of the pandemic. Hernandez told MarketWatch the “general vibe” was that the company believed it was doing enough for drivers — many of whom are minorities and immigrants — and they should just be grateful that Uber gives them the flexibility to do gig work.
Then Uber, Lyft Inc. LYFT, -1.83% and other gig companies poured $205 million into a California ballot measure that aimed to exempt them from state law and avoid paying and treating drivers and delivery workers as employees. That was the last straw for Hernandez — he resigned before the initiative passed in November with 58% of the vote, and publicly explained his reasons. In an op-ed for a tech worker newsletter, he also mentioned the financial stability he thought a career in tech would provide for someone like him, who grew up “worried a lot about money” and doing odd jobs with his parents. Instead, he could not reconcile his feeling of solidarity with Uber drivers with “the way we were expected to depersonalize drivers when we discussed them.”
“Uber was talking about ‘Black Lives Matter’ and racial justice, [but] part of that is economic justice,” Hernandez told MarketWatch. “When you treat drivers as a second-class type of employee, you’re depriving them of humanity.”
Hernandez said he found the employee resource groups at Uber to “generally be not much help.” Bo Young Lee, Uber’s chief diversity and inclusion executive, had “fire in her eyes” when she talked about white supremacy in the diversity and inclusion ERG, he said. “But as soon as I brought up drivers, it was like [she was] a totally different person. She regurgitated the company’s talking points. That was the last meeting I attended with the D&I group.”
Uber would not make Young Lee available for an interview.
Uber’s workplace culture, employee diversity and treatment of its drivers are a concern for CtW Investment Group, which works with pension funds with investments in the company.
“Uber’s policies concerning its drivers and delivery persons have prompted regulatory and legal backlash in global markets, exposing the company to increased financial risk,” Dieter Waizenegger, CtW’s executive director, wrote in an October letter to Ronald Sugar, chairman of Uber’s board.
The ride-hailing giant has fought to keep treating its drivers as independent contractors at every turn. In court, Uber’s lawyers have argued that Uber provides services to drivers, not the other way around.
“Uber saying drivers are not central to their business is cognitive dissonance,” Dieter Waizenegger, CtW’s executive director, said in an interview with MarketWatch.
“[Mostly] people of color are doing the driving, while white people are running the show,” Waizenegger added. “The company needs to explain itself and what it’s doing to increase diversity.”
After Sugar responded to CtW’s letter with details about diversity in Uber’s workplace but not among its drivers, Waizenegger said the group will continue to press Uber on the issue. He also noted that Uber’s plan to try to expand its California win on the worker-classification issue to a national level will continue to keep the scrutiny on Uber’s business model.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google and Amazon issued statements in response to Black Lives Matter this year but did they follow through?
Following the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality, some of the largest technology corporations waded into the anti-racism movement with slickly worded corporate declarations that “Black Lives Matter”.
“The bar is high, and the real focus now is seeing what is going to happen beyond the public statements,” said Yumeka Rushing, chief strategy officer at the NAACP. “This isn’t a moment, it’s a movement, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to move the needle on systemic racism.”
Here’s which companies are doing and not doing to follow through on their commitments to diversity and antiracism in 2020.
What they promised: The company committed to increasing the number of black people in leadership positions by 30% in the next five years and doubling the number of black and Latinx employees overall by 2023.
What they’ve done so far: Facebook committed more than $200m to support black businesses and organizations. That comes as part of a total investment from Facebook of $1.1bn in black and diverse suppliers and communities in the US, according to a Facebook spokesman. It committed an additional $10m to racial justice organizations, including non-profits that help people of color in legal and professional spheres. It also launched an internal diversity council consisting of 18 employees that will meet quarterly to consult on content policies, product and other programs.
The company in 2020 rolled out changes to hate speech enforcement on the platform, including prohibiting a wider range of hate speech in ads and banned content depicting blackface from the site. More changes are rumored to be on the horizon but have not yet been formally announced.
“While there is always more to do in pursuit of equality and racial justice, we will continue to listen, learn and take action to support the Black community,” said Bertie Thomson, a spokesman for Facebook.
Ongoing criticisms: Despite strides in its handling of misinformation, Facebook still faces criticism for allowing hate speech on the platform and for not strictly enforcing bans on calls to violence, whether they are from the president of the United States or private groups organizing militias and off-site violence.
“I am wholly unimpressed with its approach overall, and I remain concerned that they refuse to take claims of people calling for violence seriously,” said Jessica J González, co-founder anti hate speech group Change the Terms.
Change the Terms was one of several groups that organized an advertiser boycott of Facebook that ultimately led to many of the policy changes implemented this year. González said Facebook’s years-long inactionmakes it difficult for the company to catch up to standards expected by groups like hers.
“The reason that we had to push Facebook so hard this year in the first place was because they utterly failed for years,” she said. “They have been shockingly selfish and devoted to the bottom line above all else.”
What they promised: In June 2020 Twitter further committed to diverse hires, aiming for women to represent half of its workforce by 2025 and for “underrepresented minorities” to comprise 25% of its US workforce. As of May 2020 women represented just 42% of its workforce, Latinx at 5.1% and black representation reached 6.3%.
What they’ve done so far: The company in 2020 banned a number of well-known racists from the platform, including David Duke, the leader of US hate group the Ku Klux Klan whose presence on the platform had been criticized for more than a decade. It also banned the former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who has been criticized for espousing racist and sexist viewsand for threatening violence on the platform.
It also became one of the first platforms to address blatant lies andcalls for violence tweeted byDonald Trump when it censored his tweet calling for the shooting of people “looting” after protests.
In December Twitter announced it would now include “race, ethnicity, national origin, and caste” as categories protected in its dehumanization policy, after more than a year of pressure from the civil rights group Color of Change.
The company committed $100m in investment plus an additional $1m grant to the Opportunity Finance Network’s Finance Justice Fund in an aim to bring capital and investment to America’s most underserved communities.
Ongoing criticisms: Off the platform, Twitter has committed to diverse hiring practices, and the company admittedly made many strides in 2020 towards addressing concerns raised for years by activists. But it faces continued criticism for failing to address a large amount of hate speech on the platform and allowing misinformation to circulate, especially in recent weeks.
“Twitter did a decent job this year but it does seem like they just gave up after the election got called by major media,” González of Change the Terms said.
What they promised: The company announced a $100m creators’ fund to help “amplify” black creators and artists.
What they’ve done so far: A number of videoshave come out of the creators’ fund. Also this year, YouTube suspended the account of the Proud Boys founder, Gavin McInnes. It also suspended other white nationalist and extremist channels, including those associated with American Renaissance, Richard Spencer, Stefan Molyneux and David Duke.
YouTube said starting in 2021 it will ask creators to share, on a voluntary basis, their gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity to allow the company to more closely examine search and discovery on the platform as well as monetization as they relate to race.
As of 3 December, the company is testing a new feature to automatically filter inappropriate and hurtful comments before creators have to read them. It will soon launch a feature that automatically flags comments for offensive language and prompts a user to reconsider before posting.
Ongoing criticisms: The video platform has been a breeding ground for racism in the past, giving rise to an entire ecosystem of far-right influencers. In June, a group of black creators sued YouTube for racial discrimination, alleging the company limits how much they can earn from advertisers. YouTube has been widely criticized for its lack of action on misinformation surrounding the 2020 elections and only made substantial changes relating to the issue in days following the national vote.
What they promised: Google committed to improving leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30% by 2025. Google’s workforce is 51.7% white and 3.7% black, according to its 2020 diversity report. It also promised to “do more to address representation challenges ” by hiring new people in positions dedicated to the progression and retention of Googlers “from underrepresented groups”.
What they’ve done so far: Google made a series of financial commitments to improve racial equity totaling more than $350m, including financing and grants for black business owners, funding for education in the tech world, and cash donations to non-profits.
Ongoing criticisms: Google has been criticized in the past for the lack of racial diversity among its staff, as well as for racial bias in its algorithms. It has also faced criticism from its own employees over partnerships with police forces, including being a donor to the Seattle police department. In December more than 1,000 workers at Google condemned the company for its firing of a black ethics expert after she accused the company of censorship and criticized the way it treated her and other staff of underrepresented backgrounds.
What they promised: Under pressure from activists, the company announced a one-year moratorium on selling its facial recognition technology to police forces. Set a goal to double the representation of black VPs and directors at Amazon in 2020 again in 2021.
What they’ve done so far: Amazon has donated $10m to social justice organizations related to civil rights issues and fighting racism and appointed a number of diverse candidates to top leadership positions in recent months including Alicia Boler Davis, Raymond Leon Roker and Ukonwa Ojo.
“At Amazon, we’re constantly learning and innovating – and our long-term efforts in diversity and inclusion are no different,” a spokeswoman told the Guardian.
Ongoing criticisms: Amid a racially charged movement to defund the police, the company faces continued criticism for its partnerships with police through its smart doorbell Ring, which allows police to request footage and images from citizens’ doorbells. There are currently more than 1,400 police partnerships with Ring in the US. In the six months since Floyd was killed, Amazon has established more than 280 new partnerships with local police departments.
“Saying the right thing, and doing the right thing, are two different things,” said Steven Renderos, executive director of MediaJustice. “If tech platforms are serious about ending systemic racism, they should also be serious about not arming the police with tools to engage in systemic surveillance.”
Amazon has also faced labor complaints from employees of color. In July a worker named Hibaq Mohamed in Minnesota made waves after it was revealed that managers at her facility had targeted her repeatedly with what appeared to be bogus time off task violations, including for Covid-related precautions such as hand-washing that Amazon had previously said wouldn’t be held against workers’ time off quotas. She is still just one warning away from being fired. More than a dozen workers at Amazon-owned Whole Foods have also filed a lawsuit claiming they were fired for wearing Black Lives Matters masks.
Golf is a game built on tradition. It is a sport defined by respect and rules of etiquette that span attire, behavior and care for the course. During a culture-shifting year like 2020, these norms were challenged with the goal of bringing change to golf.
Clubs like Augusta National and professional golfers like Cameron Champ promoted diversity and initiated conversations about making the sport visually represent the United States, but these actions only mark the beginning of a cultural and demographic shift that is overdue.
That’s where the next generation steps in.
This next generation of golfers and golf leaders is already comfortable addressing the status quo in golf. Members of Generation Z, born from the late 1990s through the mid-2010s, are already thinking about how the sport is changing and how they want the game they love to be perceived by future generations.
While all under the age of 30, their insights and experiences speak of where the sport is headed in the areas of distance, traditional fashion and most importantly, diversity.
This is part one of a three-part series analyzing Gen Z’s perception of the changing landscape of golf.
Diversity, or lack thereof
Maya Torpey can’t remember the last time she saw someone her age who looks like her on the golf course.
Torpey, who has a white father and Black mother, has had plenty of opportunity to interact with golfers her age since being introduced to the sport at age 6, but over the past 13 years, the sophomore at Hofstra said she has consistently been alone.
“Growing up, all my friends who played golf were all white and even at my course, there wasn’t anybody who was African American or Black at my course,” Torpey said. “Now I think we might have three or four older gentlemen now but growing up, there were none. And every time I went to tournaments, I can’t even remember seeing any Black girls my age that I was playing against or playing with.”
Torpey, from Malvern, Pennsylvania, has grown so accustomed to being the only young, Black woman on the course that in October, she and her mother froze when they saw Mariah Stackhouse at Aronimink Golf Club. Torpey was following the leaders during the final round of the KMPG Women’s PGA Championship when she spotted Stackhouse. The only full-time Black woman on the LPGA, Stackhouse, 26, wasn’t playing her best game that Sunday — she finished the day 4-over 74 for a T-65 finish — but her placement didn’t matter to Torpey. The 19-year-old saw herself out on the course in Stackhouse and it left a mark.
“We were like, ‘Oh my God,’” Torpey said. “We were so surprised because we’re just not used to seeing Black people on tour like that.”
Stackhouse’s presence alone has led her to become a role model for players like Torpey. In September, Stackhouse starred in the LPGA’s Drive On campaign, which promotes stories of perseverance among LPGA players.
“Golf has been an integral part of my life story and a gateway of opportunity,” Stackhouse told the LPGA. “Part of my mission is to reach more people who may not have thought of golf as their sport too.
“The popular saying, ‘You cannot be what you do not see,’ really resonates with me, but I also think ‘you cannot be what you do not believe.’”
White women far outnumber Black women and other minorities in golf. Out of the 582 members of the LPGA and Symetra Tours, 183 are Asian (31 percent), 10 are Black or African American (2 percent), 51 are Latina or Hispanic (9 percent), eight are Native American or other Pacific Islander, six identify as multiracial and 323 are white (55 percent), according to statistics provided by the LPGA.
When speaking with the LPGA regarding these numbers, the tour boasted the diversity of girls entering the game is headed in a more diverse, “optimistic” direction. The tour’s goal is to keep these players involved in the game as they mature.
LPGA and Symetra Tour combined ethnicity and race breakdown provided by the LPGA. Data collected in August 2020.
On the men’s side, the PGA Tour said out of its approximately 400 card-carrying members, there were 94 international players from 29 countries and territories outside the United States, but did not have a numerical breakdown of players by ethnicity. The Tour did confirm there were four players currently on Tour with Black heritage: Joseph Bramlett, Cameron Champ, Harold Varner III and Tiger Woods.
Representation in golf matters, notes Sandy Cross, the Chief People Officer for the PGA of America who oversees diversity, equity and inclusion. A lack of Black golfers can, in part, be traced to a Caucasian-only clause that existed on the PGA Tour from 1934-1961.
“Because we had this Caucasian-only clause, we have lost a generation – or generations, plural – of Black Americans electing the PGA member career path,” Cross said. “Because there wasn’t someone in their family lineage who was already on that path.”
Every time a Black PGA professional matriculates into the industry, it inspires others. Numbers grow. But diversity is about more than numbers. Cross notes that golf must be authentically inclusive at the point of play – whether that’s a public, private or resort course. The PGA of America is developing inclusion and engagement guidelines to help in that effort, and also runs PGA WORKS, an initiative to diversity the golf industry workforce.
“We want to have a game that mirrors America, we want to have a workforce that mirrors America,” Cross said. “The third part that we want to have mirror America is the golf industry supply chain.”
Cross said the PGA of America is working to that diverse-owned businesses are included in the procurement of goods and services within an $84 billion dollar a year industry.
A spark to fuel the fire for change
The Nike golf shoes worn by Cameron Champ with messages written in support of Black Lives Matter at the 2020 BMW Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club. (Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
George Floyd’s tragic death on May 25 in Minneapolis while in police custody sparked worldwide outrage and protests. Cries of “Black Lives Matter” and “Say His Name” rang through the streets of the nation’s biggest cities and small towns as Americans of all races, genders, religions, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses called for justice.
Across the landscape of sports, athletes, teams and nearly all other sports leagues — college and professional — released statements addressing Floyd’s death and affirming Black lives do matter, participated in protests and supported Black athletes as protests began. The U.S. Golf Association issued a statement about racial and social injustice 10 days after Floyd’s death pledging to “use our voice, our position and our actions to inspire change within our society.”
On June 2, the USGA, LPGA and Symetra Tour participated in Blackout Tuesday, a trend designed to amplify Black voices on social media platforms as an act of solidarity with those protesting injustice. Eleven days after Floyd’s death, on June 5, the Tour released a recorded interview with Varner and commissioner Jay Mohanan discussing Floyd’s death, the lack of diversity on Tour and how the Tour planned to correct it.
The same day, Monahan sent a letter to Tour personnel writing that in the days after Floyd’s death, he spent time reflecting on the national protests stemming from “hardships and injustices that have and continue to impact the African-American community.” He also said while he was “struggling with what my role should be” in rectifying racial inequality and disparity in America, he was determined to find a way to make an impact.
“We might not know exactly what to do right now, but we shouldn’t be deterred,” Monahan wrote in the letter. “We should communicate and learn. We should talk to our family, friends and colleagues in an open and compassionate way. We should grow as individuals and as an organization. And, most importantly, we should demand better.”
Players with Black heritage on professional tours are few, but after Floyd’s death they began speaking and haven’t stopped. Champ, Stackhouse and Cheyenne Woods were the Black golf stars most vocal in publicly addressing cries for justice and equality.
In what will be remembered as one of the most impactful weeks of sports in 2020, and perhaps in history, the Milwaukee Bucks stood against police brutality and social injustice the week of Aug. 24 after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by not participating in their playoff game inside the NBA Bubble in Orlando, Florida. When athletes from across the sports world stood in solidarity, Champ was among them. During the BMW Championship, the 25-year-old wrote “BLM,” “Jacob Blake” and “Breonna Taylor” on his shoes and spoke about racial disparity.
“People ignore it for so long. And then it gets to a point where it just blows up,” Champ told media. “This is just the tipping of the iceberg. Change needs to happen. I feel like it’s going in the right direction, but again, with all the stuff that’s going on, it has to end.”
Champ’s choice to participate in the history-making moment is notable, but he took his dedication to promote racial equality in his sport beyond the summer protests. His foundation donated $40,000 to create two scholarship funds for student-athletes on its men’s and women’s golf teams at Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU in Prairie View, Texas.
Champ said he was inspired by Augusta National’s announcement ahead of the November Masters to establish the Lee Elder scholarship at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, and to fund the creation of a women’s golf team. It’s a step toward rectifying the club’s exclusionary past both racially and based on gender, but there’s still much work to do.
Michigan golfer Hailey Borja at the Glass City Invitational on Sept. 17, 2019. (Michigan Photography
Hailey Borja, 19 and of Mexican heritage, has felt the pressure of being one of the only minorities in tournaments and golf tours when she started playing junior golf.
“I had two friends that were from Hispanic backgrounds and that was kind of like our only little clique,” the Michigan sophomore said. “Basically I’ve grown up with these girls and I’m still friends with them now but that’s why we’ve always stuck together was because we’re the only Hispanics on the tour. I’m sure there’s some more now. … As I got older I was able to meet more and now I’m more at ease but also I don’t look Mexican either so it’s kind of like not many people know that. I think it was almost like I felt the same as them because I look white.”
While thoughtful and creative on how to approach equality in golf, both on race and gender, these young golfers are the first to admit they don’t have definitive answers. But they do know optics matter.
Torpey applauded recent moves from Augusta National and Champ, but said more needs to be done for a sport that she feels has been exclusionary for most of its existence. And that will take time. But to get there, people of color and women need to be visible on the highest levels and be given the same treatment. The purpose is not only to inspire more women and minorities to see themselves in the sport, just like Stackhouse did for Torpey at Aronimink, but to prove that golf truly values players from all walks of life.
“I definitely felt like an outsider for a while and I still do but I just wish more people (of color) were able to get into the sport. … I wish I could be playing and see a lot more African American people out there with me,” Torpey said.
As protestors around the world gathered to chant “Black Lives Matter” following the killings of three unarmed Black Americans, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, CEOs were forced to confront a challenge they probably didn’t cover in B-school: How should a company respond to systemic racism?
Black Lives Matter was not a new movement, nor was the push to make corporate workforces more representative of the population. But 2020 may prove to be a turning point for measurable change, with companies across industries publicly supporting Black Lives Matter and calling for an end to institutionalized racism in the U.S.
At the end of May, Netflix tweeted, “To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators, and talent to speak up.”
It soon became convention for companies to display BLM material as part of their visual identity. Amazon put the Black Lives Matter banner at the top of its homepage.
As many pointed out, just saying Black Lives Matter without pledging to do anything about it would probably do little to challenge centuries of racism. And companies such as Adidas were criticized for outwardly supporting racial equality while failing to support their own Black employees.
Companies did take action in 2020, but their initiatives didn’t come from a single playbook:
Hiring pledges: The CEOs of 37 companies, including General Motors, Walmart, and Merck, joined together to form OneTen, a coalition that has made a $100 million pledge to hire 1 million Black workers over the next decade. Starbucks said it would tie executives’ pay to their ability to build diverse and inclusive teams.
Sourcing: Major retailers, including Macy’s and Sephora, signed the 15 Percent Pledge, which asks retailers to devote at least 15% of shelf space to products from Black-owned businesses.
Others rebranded racist products (say hello to Ben’s Original rice), donated gobs of money to causes dedicated to racial equity, and, of course, posted black squares on social media.
Some organizations focused their efforts on improving minority representation in the C-suite. After all, less than 2% of leading executives at the top 50 companies are Black (five out of 279), per USA Today.
The Nasdaq stock exchange has proposed requiring all of its nearly 3,000 listed companies to have two diverse directors on their boards within the next five years. Over three-quarters of these companies don’t currently meet the requirement.
California became the first state in the U.S. to enact a board diversity quota earlier this month. All publicly traded companies headquartered in CA must seat one diverse director by 2021.
Leading investment firm BlackRock has threatened to vote against board directors who don’t address racial inequality in their companies.
Will this time be different?
The gap between deciding to have a more diverse workforce and actually following through is as wide as the gap between having ingredients in the fridge and having Christmas dinner.
Since 2016, Google’s churned through three diversity officers while its employee base has remained roughly the same: 6% of employees identify as Black, 7% as Latino, and 33% as women.
At Wells Fargo, CEO Charlie Scharf wrote in June that the lack of Black workers at his company was the result of a “very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from.” Following criticism online, Scharf walked those comments back and said that “across the industry, we have not done enough to improve diversity, especially at senior leadership levels.” Just over 4% of the bank’s senior leadership was Black in 2018, down from 8% in 2015.
Melinda Briana Epler, CEO of Change Catalyst, which helps tech companies with their diversity initiatives, said, “If you’re looking for candidates in the same places you’ve always looked, then you might not find a lot of underrepresented people.”
So where are corporations looking for talent?
Historically black colleges and universities: Tesla wrote in its diversity report that it’ll recruit more from HBCs, while Apple’s HBCU Scholars Program offers leadership opportunities and internships. Some firms are doing away with their college requirement altogether to further reduce barriers to employment; the OneTen promise makes a point of this.
Nonprofits: 501(c)(3)s like CodePath are working to boost diversity in tech by offering college students no-cost coding courses and career support. Its backers include Facebook, Walmart, and Microsoft.
Specialized recruitment firms: Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) services are having a moment. This year, the consultancy Bain created a DEI division to meet high demand for services like inclusion training, supply chain diversification, and of course, recruiting diverse talent. Division head Julie Coffman calls the sector “the next digital,” while a partner at another consultancy says it’s the “fastest growing business line we have right now.”
Zoom out: As my colleague Alex Hickey wrote back in June, many of the most influential brands on earth have made powerful commitments to improve racial equity this year. But their legacy in confronting racial injustice will be determined by their actions when the world isn’t watching.
As the year draws to a close, Computer Weekly looks over some of the notable stories relating to women in tech, diversity and inclusion throughout 2020
Increasing diversity in the tech sector, and working towards inclusive culture in firms, is an ongoing process in the technology sector.
Though efforts are being made to increase representation, progress is slow, and many underrepresented groups still struggle to feel at home in the space.
The conversation has definitely shifted away from just working towards encouraging more women into the sector, and towards making the sector inclusive for all – a theme that was still very much apparent in 2020.
At the beginning of the year, industry collective the Tech Talent Charter released its second annual benchmarking report aimed at monitoring the changes to the number of women in tech in its signatories.
“Looking to the year ahead, we are going to be growing the scope of the Tech Talent Charter beyond gender diversity to building an inclusive culture for all,” she said. “This time next year, we hope to have insight into best practice on ethnicity, age, disability, social inclusion, mental health and neurodiversity, as well as wider forms of intersectional diversity.”
While launching its second annual Women in Software Powerlist, the bootcamp’s head of marketing, Alex Bailey, explained: “We know that when talking about diversity in tech, it really doesn’t end with gender. We want to do a lot better. We know there’s a lot more work to do. But by changing the narrative around gender, we can begin to change other aspects of diversity as well.”
Research by the BCS found in 2019, women accounted for only 17% of IT specialists in the UK, a figure which has only grown by 1% over the past five years.
It also found that around 8% of IT specialists are of Indian ethnicity, 2% are from a black, African, Caribbean or black British background, and 2% are from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds.
The figures also looked into older IT workers and tech professionals with disabilities – meaning those with physical or mental disabilities lasting for more than a year, making it difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks – finding 22% of IT professionals in 2019 were aged 50 or above, a figure that hasn’t changed much over the past five years, and 11% of all IT specialists in the UK at this time had disabilities, which has increased from 8% in 2015.
A lack of diversity and inclusion in the tech sector already made it difficult for some under-represented groups to break into the industry – with the added difficulty of the pandemic, many needed more support to find appropriate tech sector roles.
In August 2020, technology community Muslamic Makers launched a programme designed to help people from a Muslim background in the UK to develop skills, receive coaching and learn more about possible digital careers.
Focusing on empowering women in the region through the use of technology, Kadchha founded charity Educating The Children (ETC) to encourage teachers to volunteer to teach primary school children in Kenya, build secondary schools for young women, and encourage women to take part in software careers.
The aim of the list of the Most Influential Women in UK Technology is to showcase female role models in the sector to make them more visible and accessible. Each year we also publish the longlist of nominees to shine a light on as many women as possible.
As well as the top 50, Computer Weekly also announced entrants to its Hall of Fame, women who have made a long-term contribution to the technology sector, and several Rising Stars, who are selected for their growing contribution to both the technology sector and the diversity in technology agenda.
There has been lots of advice over the years about how to build an inclusive and diverse tech sector, but one of the pieces of advice regularly given is that a push for diversity and inclusion should start at the top of a business.
A panel of experts speaking at the 2020 Black Tech Fest event explained several ways that the industry can push for diverse and inclusive teams, including constant education at board level and developing a “long-term” strategy for change.
One of the panel members pointed out it can be helpful to have those at the top of the organisation involved, as they often have more power to shift the dial.
The framework included advice such as ensuring disability inclusion is embraced at every level of an organisation, understanding how to reach and serve people with disabilities, and delivering inclusive products and services.
Being “the only.” It is a phrase that has come up time and time again as I speak to my colleagues of color. Many of them speak of being the only person who is Black, Latinx or Asian in the room, in the company, in the entire building. As they dig deeper into the feeling of being “the only,” they speak of being exhausted, of feeling they are representing their entire race or gender and of the feeling they don’t belong.
Have you ever stepped into a room and realized you were “the only”? A couple of years ago, I was concerned about the lack of gender diversity in a CIO networking group I manage. I asked one of the female members why she and others didn’t attend often, if at all. Her response was: “I don’t know, let’s ask.” With that, I found myself invited to a dinner party with 20 women IT leaders. I was petrified and uncomfortable. I felt I was representing all men — and these were all women I knew, respected and counted as friends.
I am in no way suggesting that one dinner party equates to what many experience day in and day out their entire lives. I can never begin to feel nor understand what that is like. What it did do, however, was open my eyes to some of the issues related to diversity and inclusion.
In part one of this series, we took a look “Inside The Numbers.” In part two, I want to highlight a few organizations that are helping our diverse colleagues find community, support and a “safe space” among others who know what it’s like to be “the only,” as well as ways we can all get involved.
BDPA was born in 1975 as the Black Data Processing Association. As BDPA national president Terry Morris discussed on my “Status Go” podcast, its mission then — as it is now — was to create a place for Black and African Americans to grow, develop and nurture each other. Over the years, it has grown in numbers and in programs. Today, BPDA is a place for all minorities to advance their careers, from the classroom to the boardroom, including conducting competitions for everyone from high school students to Ph.D. candidates.
/dev/color is an organization whose mission is to provide Black software engineers with the support they need to grow into industry leaders. While providing insights into the group’s history, mission and its foundation of members helping members, director of programs Cynthia Billops noted on “Status Go” that after starting in 2015 with fewer than a dozen members, the organization has grown to over 500 members, with squads in San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta and Seattle.
Founded in 2015, Techqueria has grown to over 11,000 members in seven active chapters. Through its programs, it empowers Latinx professionals with the “resources and support that they need to thrive and become leaders in the tech industry.” Its members work in product, design and engineering roles. The organization also works with employee resource groups to provide career advice, mentorship and networking. The organization launched a podcast earlier this year, hosted by tech reporter Jose Fermoso, that features topics affecting Latinx people.
A group that can often feel overlooked in the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation are people who are Asian-American. The National Association of Asian-American Professionals, while not exclusively focused on the tech professional, is an organization that “cultivates and empowers Asian & Pacific Islander leaders through leadership development, professional networking, and community service.” Throughout its 38 years, the organization has grown to 25 chapters across the country. NAAAP’s job board currently shows over 100 positions in tech across the country.
Now Is The Time
These are four examples of organizations building communities, supporting communities and growing leaders. If you know of others, I would love to learn about them.
In the meantime, now is the time to get involved. If you are a member of one of these communities, consider reaching out to them and becoming a part of their organization. Support the other members and help them grow.
If you are not a member of these communities, I encourage you to research them and learn more about them. Get involved.
• Volunteer: Many of the organizations survive through the efforts of volunteers. Seek out ways that you can volunteer.
• Attend Events: Attending is a great way to show your support, and it’s a great way to learn and diversify your network.
• Donate: All of the organizations I mentioned are nonprofits. They could all use additional financial resources to carry out their missions.
• Sponsor: Advocate within your company for sponsorship of the organizations or their events. Sponsorships are difficult for some nonprofits to obtain in this current “all events are virtual” world, and I am sure they would appreciate sharing their story with you.
• Hire: Hire diverse candidates. Go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Use these organizations as another source of candidates for your open positions.
Here is a bonus idea for involvement. The next time you enter a room, look around. Is there someone there who is “the only”? Consider introducing yourself to them, making them feel welcome, helping them feel they are not “the only” and including them in the group. If it was you, I believe you would appreciate it.
In part three of “Race in Tech,” we will look at one of the top reasons companies give when they don’t hire a diverse workforce — the talent pipeline.
They came by the dozens, the daily June promises from fashion brands to improve diversity; the black social media squares situated above pledges to listen, learn, change; the dedications to making a difference on inclusion despite little prior interest in it.
As the industry was called to task for its outmoded exclusionary nature in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, which catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement, it acted — or at least took some initial steps to make it appear that way.
Six months out, this year’s leading activists in fashion say, while noting some positive strides, that performative activism may have won out over real progress. Others say it’s too soon to tell. But brewing Black History Month efforts for February that brands may be scrambling to put in place now aren’t going to provide the get-out-of-hot-water-free ticket in 2021.
While a half year isn’t much time to overhaul a long-standing industry issue that stems from an even longer history of racism, activists’ concerns lie in the fact that initiatives to date have had little impact, and that momentum already appears to be slowing in some cases where diversity is concerned.
“I’m not going to say that the efforts that I’ve seen by companies are not of value, I just don’t know if that value has permanence without a more thoughtful policy implementation,” said Kibwe Chase-Marshall, cofounder of The Kelly Initiative, an effort rolled out over the summer dedicated to creating equitable inroads for Black fashion professionals via a four-point plan to increase industry transparency. “Policy change and policy implementation [are needed] if we want two things: if we want to actually feel palpable industry change, if we want to walk into offices, studios and in a short time note a difference in this industry, there needs to be policy change. Then, if we want that change to last indefinitely there needs to be policy implementation, because no one more so than those that work in the fashion industry know intimately how [a] trend can make things that seem so important today so irrelevant tomorrow.”
The Present and the Problems
The thing about diversity — like sustainability, social justice and labor rights — is that it can’t slip into irrelevance when it’s no longer the “It” issue; it can’t be rendered the troublesome box that has to be ticked before onlookers start shouting.
“I think the fashion industry has been somewhat responsive but the real progress will be seen in a year or so,” said Aurora James, creative director of Brother Vellies and founder of the 15 Percent Pledge, which has challenged brands to commit 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, in line with the portion of the population the community comprises. In November, the pledge revealed its biggest retailer commitment to date when Macy’s Inc. signed on, but it remains to be seen where things go from there. “Will these publications and brands still create content that speaks to a broad community? Will big businesses continue to diversify their staff and executive teams? We just can’t go back to ‘business as usual,’” she said.
While fashion has effectively kicked things off, the battle to right the business must wage on.
“The good thing is everybody is talking about it. What we’ve yet to see and what we’re waiting patiently for is the real action. I think in the first few months everybody was listening, they were muted and listening,” said Sharon Chuter, founder and chief executive officer of Uoma Beauty who created the Pull Up for Change initiative, which challenges brands to disclose their corporate diversity (though it has more often been a lack thereof).
At this point, though, listening has run its course.
“Aren’t y’all done listening? When are we going to get past the listening phase? Because at this point all we’re having is a monologue….If you don’t move into a dialogue we can’t move into action,” Chuter said.
This is where fashion and beauty alike have largely gone wrong, she explained. In the listening, too many brands were either grieving over the things they didn’t like to hear (or realize) about themselves, angered by being called out or entirely indifferent. Either way, all proved hindrances to action. As did the fashion industry’s very ethos.
Fashion, Chuter claimed, has suffered from an it’s-not-my-problem approach to issues.
“It’s a huge problem in luxury fashion. It is an industry built on complete arrogance, complete disconnection from real people because, essentially, they specialize in creating desire,” she said. “They’re not an industry that are good at listening because they’ve never had to listen to anybody. They come and they tell you how it’s going to be, they tell you what beautiful looks like, they tell you what you’re going to buy. It’s an industry that has told consumers for decades and now we’re telling them listen to your consumers and they can’t process that.”
For those brands that have made the attempt to process it and take action, many are approaching diversity as an easy fix, using chief diversity officers, diversity councils and $100 million funds for racial equity as Band-Aids.
“A lot of companies still don’t have the answer and there’s a lot of fear in having better conversations publicly so we can all figure out the answer,” Chuter said. “This is a problem that has been created over hundreds of years, there is no magic wand to actually fix it.”
But what may be the closest thing to a magic wand, according to Chase-Marshall, is exactly what Chuter has been pushing for: greater transparency around the makeup of company staff and corporate leadership. It’s the tool that could force brands to stay close to their commitments because their consumers will be armed to watch with more informed eyes.
“Right now it becomes imperative for the fashion community to assess the difference between what I call performative optics and what would be a radical transparency,” he said.
Performative optics, Chase-Marshall said, give the illusion of change, and the ad campaigns featuring more Black models which have surfaced everywhere, the ubiquitous lists of Black-owned brands to shop now and the pop-up collaborations with Black talent fall into that camp. The efforts may prove just visible enough to enable brands to evade the real work that remains to be done on diversity — which is hiring more people of color in corporate leadership roles and ensuring designers and creatives of color the same access and opportunities as anyone else.
“Those instances of optics,” he said, “just shore up that things will remain the way they are and that people that have solidified those systems of inequity won’t be taken to task because they can trot out this ad campaign or this one collab.”
Or this one partnership, as Chuter noted.
“A lot of [brands] are scrambling, especially before Black History Month because they know that the conversation is going to turn back into [diversity] so all of them are trying to sign deals with people. I know for me as a Black person the amount of retailers running [and saying], ‘Oh, we want to launch you for Black History Month.’ Oh, so that I can be your corporate tick box?” Chuter said. “Many big retailers are just rushing and launching Black-owned brands, chucking them online only, no support, nothing going into these brands — you are setting up these brands to fail. So if you’re coming in and you want to work with me, yes, being Black-owned might be what got you even more interested, but you have to be interested in what I actually do beyond being Black-owned.”
The new year, and the new diversity work, will require being transparent about what’s happening behind the optics. And so far, the tech industry may be one sector that’s getting it (at least somewhat) right.
“Where the tech industry is moving at a more efficient pace toward getting it right is via that culture of radical transparency. There are many big tech firms who disclose their company demographics annually and get taken to task for it — Facebook, Google — and they aren’t necessarily at this point yet implementing the internal recruitment initiatives to drastically change those numbers, but we in the public can hold them accountable for that because we know those numbers,” Chase-Marshall said. “If you are secretive about those numbers everyone knows something’s up. But that secretive shielding of information is the status quo in the fashion industry. We don’t know who comprises many companies and especially key companies in the U.S. who are doing outward marketing pushes to reimage as more equitable. And I think they have to be held accountable for the capital that they receive for being seen as on board with the broader cultures’ interest in equity.”
What’s needed, he said, and one among the four points the Kelly Initiative has proposed, is intervention to implement an industry-wide census — and he’s looking right at the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
“The CFDA has never thoughtfully addressed why it has not moved to implement that type of census,” Chase-Marshall said, noting two years’ worth of attempts to engage the organization. “They have brushed aside conversations by saying they don’t have the authority to force anyone to reveal that data, and that’s common knowledge, but they do have the influence to encourage brands and organizations to do so.”
The Deeper Impact
Without that level of transparency — the same kind fashion is grappling with as it works to prove the validity of its sustainability claims — brands may continue to miss the mark on the issue or cease trying to tackle it altogether.
Worse, they may end up embracing modern-day segregation without even realizing it.
As Chuter explained, in the prep for Black History Month, some brands have suggested creating sections of their stores dedicated to Black-owned brands or Black designers.
“You know you’ve just recreated an ethnic aisle, right?” Chuter charged. “You can’t do that….And we have to be careful you don’t reduce Black businesses into pity purchases and pity businesses because these are all businesses. All we’re saying is we want a fair chance.” Elaborating, she added, “What you do unintentionally is that you create consequences that are far beyond because you’ve just reduced these people, you’ve just reduced their ideas, you’ve reduced their creativity and all you’ve sold about them is that they’re Black. And that in itself is really not a commercial story.”
Bringing diversity firmly into fashion doesn’t look like focusing on white designers over here and Black designers over there.
“We’re not Black American designers. We’re American designers. We’re just designers,” said Victor Glemaud, who designs his namesake brand and who founded In the Blk, a collective committed to expanding the visibility of Black creatives in fashion. “And once you realize that and stop segregating us and putting us all together and including us in the entire industry and all the opportunities that exist in this industry, then it will always be performative and it will always be seen as performative.”
Diversity may be the leading topic of discussion now, but it isn’t buzzy, it’s not a fad, and performative efforts won’t endure unchecked in the current climate.
“Diversity is the new challenge of the future, of the next five years,” Chuter said. “Over the last 10 years it was things like sustainability, which is still a challenge, but companies had to start focusing on that [and things like the] animal rights issue. But isn’t it interesting that animal rights issues got tackled before [diversity]?”
2021 and the Future of Diversity
While the world has been ready to rid itself of 2020, 2021 has its work cut out when it comes to repairing the fashion industry and shoring it up for a more sustainable and equitable future.
“It’s not going to be an easy year in terms of the fashion industry and I hope that difficulty does not allow people to ignore and sidestep [diversity] and to say we’ll get to you at another time,” Glemaud said. “I just hope it’s not something that is forgotten, overlooked, swept under the rug, put on the back burner, whatever you want to say, because of business difficulties and whatever madness 2021 will bring.”
Whatever 2021 does bring, Chase-Marshall fears some Black fashion professionals may get left behind long term if effective action doesn’t take shape in short order.
“As fashion industries are so destabilized by the COVID-19 era, there are so many talented Black professionals who, if authentic change does not occur, will never work within their professional function again because you have generations of younger professionals who will displace them,” he said. “So this is not sort of an abstract esoteric discussion here, this is about saying in 2021, after that vaccine is on the market and people begin to return to in-person offices, who is getting rehired and who is forever put out to pasture?”
In the new year, Chuter wants to see brands that are doing it right so others can take heed, and James is hopeful brands will continue on the path of doing the necessary work. “Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be an afterthought or feel like a chore, it needs to be the standard,” she said. Lindsay Peoples-Wagner, cofounder of the Black in Fashion Council and editor in chief of Teen Vogue, thinks the industry is on the right track.
“Companies have been excited to make changes, and it’s been really refreshing to have more transparent conversations with people across the industry over the past six-plus months or so. We’ve been able to discuss, at the very granular level, what accountability and transparency mean for a brand in 2020, and how to responsibly execute on that to ensure a continuous commitment to diversity. The goal is to stop having the same conversations over and over again, and instead start to see real, informed change,” she said. “It’s up to the industry to make sure that industry efforts to support, hire, and elevate Black designers aren’t just something that happened this year, or that come up during Black History Month.”
So, as 2020 fades, what should 2021 look like when it comes to diversity?
Next year “should look like the Black community of fashion professionals becoming more discerning about what change making looks like. Because no longer can we depend on those in the industry who have benefited from the inequity to dismantle it,” Chase-Marshall said. “We really need to look at what it would take to get Black professionals consistently afforded equitable opportunity in the professional spaces that we have the right to occupy but are often barred from.”
The pandemic is surging in America once more. If this past year is any indication, it will hurt all of us — but communities of color will continue to suffer disproportionately.
Black and brown folks will make up more of the sick and the dying, and Black and brown businesses and employees will make up more of the people struggling financially.
Here is the good news: Interest in finding common ground and concrete solutions is also surging. That means there are some paths out of the mess we are in.
Let’s take stock: The longer the pandemic lasts, the more it could accelerate ongoing trends. Automation and advanced computing was changing how we work and undermining livelihoods before COVID-19, but by 2030, technology and automation will negatively affect hundreds of thousands of jobs that exist today.
The situation is worse for communities of color. Because people of color are overrepresented in fields that are likely to be automated, a McKinsey report estimated that 23.1% of African Americans and 25.1% of Hispanic Americans will see their jobs disappear or transform in the next decade. Even before COVID-19, the situation was bleak.
Perhaps this shift will create new, high-tech jobs, or those same people can retrain, retool and find employment in the economy of the future?
In practice, it is not nearly so easy. In 2019, the average cost for online coding bootcamps was $14,623 per person. Even with loans, installment plans or income-sharing agreements, that is far beyond the reach of many of the people whose current jobs are going away.
The pandemic is making this worse. Nearly 80% of low-income households do not have enough savings to last three months, and a third of Americans will have trouble paying their bills this month.
Waiting for the good news? America’s biggest, best-funded, most-profitable companies are struggling to hire and retain diverse talent. The good news is that they know it. They know they cannot compete without the genius in underrepresented communities, and they know they are not doing well enough right now.
Many companies will spend an average of $20,000 just on recruiting fees for a single IT hire, but hiring an IT candidate from a diverse community can cost three times as much, and once hired, there is a massive retention problem. Since 2016, the retention rate of Black and Latinx employees in Big Tech has fallen from 7% to 5%. There is a revolving door of diverse talent entering and leaving organizations.
In other words, you have a whole bunch of talented, creative people crying out for high-tech jobs — and a whole bunch of powerhouse, innovative companies desperate to hire and hold onto talent and creativity.
For instance, industry and educational leaders can devote resources to scholarships and training programs that come with job guarantees. Activists and CEOs can both push for universal broadband access, especially in the midst of a pandemic that is damaging learning opportunities for children, so that the next generation of coders has a shot at success.
Untapped talent in underrepresented communities can help companies avoid algorithmic bias and compete in a diverse, global world, and companies can help people thrive as the economy changes.
This common-ground approach is built on the recognition that both sides need each other in order to succeed. It can be a model for other thorny problems and produce necessary solutions. The pandemic is surging once more — but so is the demand for common ground. We can choose how we respond.
Here’s a bad feeling; stop me if you’ve had it before.
It’s 2020. You’re on social media, skimming the day’s headlines. A photo from a TV show you like pops up. It’s an unexpected bright spot in your , until…ah, there it is. That show is getting canceled — and its female/LGBTQ/POC cast and/or creators are out of a job.
“They don’t care about ratings. What they really care about is subscribers.”
This year, a global health crisis ran headlong into the economy. In entertainment, that mammoth collision became a kind of stress test for industry priorities — one used as an excuse to abandon diverse and inclusive TV shows.
As COVID-19 shut down productions across networks and streaming services, TV execs scrambled to adjust programming schedules and made calls on series expected not only in 2020, but also on slates for 2021, 2022, and beyond. As a result, a slew of shows got the boot.
“The recent cancelation of progressive shows with diverse casts speaks to a larger systemic issue that networks and distribution companies have in following through on their commitments to diversity and inclusion,” says Kristen Marston, culture and entertainment advocacy director at in an email to Mashable. “Shows that position BIPOC, women, and LGBTQIA+ stories must not only be greenlit, but supported with resources and promotion to elevate them.”
Accusations have been particularly pointed when it comes to Netflix, which announced the ends of more than 25 original series this year.
Which series did and didn’t make that cut is valuable data for television’s ongoing diversity and inclusion dialogue, agrees Dr. Darnell Hunt, professor of sociology and co-author of . But those trends you may be seeing on social media, Hunt says, are likely missing critical context.
“Compared to other digital platforms and networks, Netflix is ahead of the game on certain key statistics,” Hunt tells Mashable over the phone, citing the streaming service’s notably diverse representation on-camera and behind-the-scenes during the . Yes, it’s a good sign for industry diversity, Hunt says. But it’s also proven hugely beneficial to Netflix’s bottom line.
“The business model for Netflix is different than what it was for the traditional broadcast networks,” Hunt explains.“[Broadcast networks] wanted to create programming that attracted a large audience [for advertisements], which also meant a white audience. So people of color, women, and queer folks were marginalized in those stories. With Netflix, that goes out the window. They don’t care about ratings. What they really care about is subscribers.”
“Compared to other digital platforms and networks, Netflix is ahead of the game on certain key statistics.”
In simple terms: At Netflix, appealing to a large subscribership — effectively a collection of various sized audiences all interested in the same catalogue, but not necessarily the same titles within that catalogue — directly benefits their business. It doesn’t matter who’s paying that monthly subscription fee or even, in some ways, what they’re watching.
In striving to please as many customers as possible, Netflix has increased diversity across crucial metrics. The latest Hollywood Diversity Report, released in October, has the data to back that up, and indicates overall improvement in diversity across the television industry. That’s great news.
But, of course, that report doesn’t account for the 2019-2020 TV season or the present 2020-2021 TV season — both of which were impacted by the pandemic and are the focus of many viewer concerns. Experts such as Hunt aren’t likely to release their findings on those data sets until 2021 or later, and Hunt is hesitant to make any predictions in the meantime. Maybe suspicious viewers are right, and diversity is taking a hit. But that said, if you just compare cancelations to cancelations, Netflix’s 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 TV seasons are promisingly similar.
At Netflix this year, the unexpected cancelations of ,, and , all of which were previously renewed (GLOW had already started production in March when lockdowns kicked in) were attributed to the pandemic.
Other cancelations on the service were not — including Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, Turn Up Charlie, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Altered Carbon, The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance, Astronomy Club: The Sketch Show, Merry Happy Whatever, Spinning Out, Messiah, October Faction, Teenage Bounty Hunters, V Wars, AJ & The Queen, and more.
“We also do make a large amount of first season shows, which sometimes feels [like] we have more first season cancelations.”
With or without a pandemic, that seems like a staggering number of cancelations. But percentage-wise it’s on par with Netflix’s 2018-2019 season — and the rest of the industry, as Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos and global head of TV Bela Bajaria in September while speaking at the 2020 Paley International Council Summit.
“We also do make a large amount of first season shows, which sometimes feels [like] we have more first season cancelations,” Bajaria said. “I also think you have to look at The Crown, with Season 4 launching now, and Grace & Frankie [going into Season 7 in 2021] and The Ranch [which ended after the second part of Season 4 debuted in January]. We’ve had long running shows.”
Hunt says Netflix’s season-based greenlight model can be a great thing for underrepresented voices, one that creates opportunities for female, POC, and LGBTQ artists to produce multiple episodes of stories audiences haven’t seen before. But it stands out that the three long-running series Bajaria named as major successes at Netflix all feature predominantly white casts and are primarily credited to white directors, writers, and producers.
Why Netflix goes the distance with certain shows and not others has always baffled subscribers, and on occasion, angered some pretty vocal fanbases. (Search The OA, Anne with an E, Santa Clarita Diet, Sense8, One Day at a Time, Lucifer, or another popular ex-Netflix title on Twitter to get a sense of that regularly intense atmosphere.)
“Some content works. Some just doesn’t.”
But when that question of what does and doesn’t get renewed is raised within the context of cultural representation, Netflix executives’ personal motivations become central to assessing the platform’s allyship. Are these leaders in streaming upholding an ethical standard for their rapidly evolving industry? Or are they abiding by a business model that relies on disingenuous, performative series orders, but does not encourage the long term support of those shows?
Business analyst Dan Rayburn says cancelations at Netflix are first and foremost decided by data.
“[Netflix is] simply making a calculated business decision based on the best place to spend their money,” Rayburn asserts in a phone interview. “Some content works. Some just doesn’t.”
Undeniably, popular new content is critical to the company’s long-term success, says Rayburn. Unlike HBO Max, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services with diversified revenue streams that include merchandise, advertisements, and more, Netflix’s earnings come exclusively from subscription fees.
SEE ALSO: The 10 best films of 202000:00 of 00:49Volume 0%00:0000:49More VideosWhat you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccineCristina Mittermeier’s Instagram chronicles a natural world on the brink. But she’s got a plan to help save it.How Keyboard Cat hit the viral jackpotHow influencers are ruining OnlyFans for sex workersStacey Abrams on how American democracy hinges on the right to voteiPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro reviewClose
“Many years ago, Netflix shifted their model to original content because they realized original content is what drives new subs,” Rayburn says. “Now, you [Netflix] have to create cartoons, documentaries, thrillers, all kinds of content. It’s such a wide depth and breadth of people using your service that it’s only natural you’re going to do one season of a show, and if doesn’t have the traction you hoped for, [cancel it].”
With one of the largest collections — if not collection — of data on modern viewing habits out there, Netflix undoubtedly considers dozens of factors when deciding what to cancel, despite rarely sharing its data with the public. But the possibility of a negative reaction from viewers if a show is ended, Rayburn insists, should never enter into that equation. And when it does, he says, subscribers pay.
“There is a familiarity with that idea of being devalued in the workplace, of not being visible or recognized, of not getting promoted.”
“Why do you think [Netflix] raised rates twice in the last year? Because the number one cost of any of these services is content creation. Consumers want more, more, more. But, they don’t want to pay more.”
A social psychologist at UCLA and Hunt’s co-author on the Hollywood Diversity Report, Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón, however, says not accounting for the emotional effect cancelations can have on viewers tends to be a mistake in the streaming age.
“Too often the cancelations come after you’ve already seen an entire season, whereas in the past, you might’ve only caught an episode or two before it was canceled on broadcast,” Ramón observes to Mashable in a call.
“[Binge watchers] get tied to these characters and storylines in a deep way. And when you’re from a group that’s underrepresented or if you’re just interested in seeing more representation, then [cancelations that seem to go against that desired trend] can be more affecting.”
Ramón says watching directors, writers, producers, and actors from underrepresented groups cope with the ends of their projects on social media sometimes makes processing the loss even more difficult for fans. And in cases where allegations of prejudiced, toxic behavior are later made about the actual working environments of those programs — as was the case with both and — reactions can be especially raw.
“For people of color in the United States, there is a familiarity with that idea of being devalued in the workplace, of not being visible or recognized, of not getting promoted,” Ramón says.
“I think that’s what makes it so personal for a lot of people. They can identify with that experience and they want [the artists they admire] to excel. It’d be great for the show to go on if you’ve already identified with it, but you also just want those real people to be successful.”
“It’s building trust, which is another way of saying you’re building a brand.”
Ramón is far from naive about the realities of competition in entertainment; of course, some TV shows must be canceled and some people will be disappointed by that. Still, separating emotion from major decision-making within an artistic industry doesn’t make logical sense to the social scientist.
“Some people don’t care about anything other than the numbers. And so, instead of having an overall view of how [the TV industry actually comes together] and how it’s all interconnected, then they make decisions that don’t help them retain loyalty from the customer.”
“It’s building trust,” agrees Hunt. “Which is another way of saying you’re building a brand.”
“Netflix has long been a home for LGBTQ stories and storytelling,” says GLAAD‘s director of entertainment media, Jeremy Blacklow, when asked about recent Netflix cancelations via email. “As Netflix continues to greenlight and develop new series, we expect to see a continued focus on LGBTQ stories and characters, as we’ve seen in recent groundbreaking series like Special, Sex Education, Elite, Dead to Me, Hollywood, Tales of The City, Sense8, and Deaf U.”
Hunt and Ramón agree Netflix can reinforce that kind of trust with audiences by replacing series canceled in 2020 with shows that meet similar representation standards. And while Hunt and Ramón, who have both worked directly with Netflix in the past on improving diversity at the platform, seem fairly confident that will happen, they understand concerned subscribers speaking out now.
“We have a lot of examples where viewer feedback made a difference,” mentions Hunt. “There are a number of factors that go into that, but all things equal, I think viewers can make the difference.”
Representatives for Netflix declined to comment on the record for this story.