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Tech Layoffs Are Deteriorating DE&I Efforts

A man wearing a headset while working on a laptop.

​The technology industry has been rocked by massive layoffs in recent weeks.

More than 45,000 U.S. tech employees have been let go from their jobs in November, according to data from Twitter, Meta and Amazon accounted for nearly 25,000 of those jobs lost, and reports show that layoffs at Google could surpass 10,000 employees by early 2023. More than 85,000 tech workers have lost their jobs thus far in 2022.

The layoffs have also led to the erosion of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts nationwide.

Twitter's chief diversity officer resigned shortly after billionaire Elon Musk took over the company due to Musk's unconventional leadership style. Musk has since dissolved the organization's employee resource groups and the accessibility engineering team, which helped make the website usable for people with visual and auditory challenges.

Several Black workers have expressed concern that Twitter will become a less inclusive company.

"The news about the massive layoffs in tech was painful," said Ahva Sadeghi, co-founder and CEO of tech company Symba in San Francisco. "Unfortunately, we are seeing a major setback for DE&I amid budget cuts, layoffs and hiring freezes."

Sadeghi foresaw that "a storm was brewing" after witnessing hiring freezes and slashed HR budgets throughout the tech industry in early 2022. Then internship programs were downsized. High inflation and interest rates add to the unpredictability.

"Tech companies are making difficult decisions in light of all of this," she said.

Jeffrey L. Bowman, founder and CEO of tech platform Reframe in New York City, explained that DE&I has always been an optional line item within corporate America's budgets. While DE&I programs rose after the death of George Floyd, they will likely become a resource reduction as inflation increases.

"It was with good intention that the practice of DE&I was originally established to integrate corporate America," Bowman said. "Flash forward to 2022 and the tech winter, many believe and know the DE&I gains by many in corporate America since George Floyd will become an afterthought."

Tech Layoffs Hit People of Color

The tech industry is already one of the least diverse.

In 2021, just 4.4 percent of employees at Google were Black and 6.4 percent were Latino, according to the tech giant's 2021 diversity report. At Meta, people with disabilities represented about 6 percent of the company's workforce, despite accounting for 19 percent of the U.S. labor force.

Recent research by jobs site Zippia revealed that:

  • 83 percent of tech executives and 62 percent of all workers in the sector are white.
  • Women hold 26 percent of tech jobs, despite representing most of the college-educated labor force.
  • On average, women in tech are offered a salary that is 3 percent less than men for the same job.

Tech layoffs disproportionately affect individuals from underserved communities. For example, tech website Protocol studied Netflix's two large-scale layoffs in early 2022 and discovered that many who lost their jobs were women and workers or color. In mid-November, Protocol laid off its entire staff.

A study of more than 800 companies by Harvard Business Review revealed that organizations experience as much as a 22 percent reduction in Black, Hispanic and Asian men on their management teams when they cut positions rather than evaluate individual workers.

Sadeghi noted that tech employers lose nearly 19 percent of their share of white women and 14 percent of Asian men in management when they lay off workers based on seniority or a "last-hired, first-fired" approach.

"Those are large margins, especially when you consider the already limited representation of some of these populations in the tech industry," she said. "While that might seem like the most neutral approach, it's important to keep in mind how this might impact the diversity of your workforce."

'A Marathon, not a Sprint'

Jason Walker, co-founder of Thrive HR Consulting in Austin, Texas, implored organizations in all industries to stay the course with their DE&I strategies, even if the commitment is difficult due to a volatile economy.

"You double down in the hard times and show your commitment," he said. "Employees will see that you buy into your strategy no matter what is happening. That builds an immense amount of goodwill with the organization."

Rey Ramirez, who co-founded Thrive HR Consulting with Walker, said companies should continue to emphasize DE&I programs and strive to have their organization look like the community in which they operate.

Having a diverse organization benefits the company and shareholders, he noted.

"Transparency is now being required in many states, and companies are now reporting annually on their diversity numbers," Ramirez said. "Customers are also voting with their wallets, and companies that have issues with DE&I will lose customers and investors."

Sadeghi said leaders should try not to overreact to shifts in the economy. A volatile economy is an opportunity to become more strategic.

"Forecast your company's actual hiring needs carefully, anticipating the skills your organization will need," Sadeghi said. "Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint."


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