EEOC Report: High-Tech Firms Hire Fewer Minorities Compared to All Industries Nationwide

By Kathy Gurchiek May 20, 2016
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Employment in computer science and engineering is growing at twice the rate of the national employment average overall, yet there are “significantly” fewer female, black and Hispanic employees in those jobs, which often provide higher pay and better benefits, according to a new report.

“The distribution of workers among job groups in the high-tech industry nationwide suggests a pattern where women and nonwhite employment decreases as the job group increases, from technicians up to executives,” said Ronald Edwards, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Program Research and Surveys Division. The EEOC released the report May 18 during a public hearing and panel discussion.

Black employees, for example, make up 9 percent of high-tech technicians but only 1.9 percent of executives, Edwards noted.

The Diversity in High Tech report looked at national and Silicon Valley data from the Employer Information Reports (EEO-1s) collected in 2014. The report defined high-tech industries as those that have “a high concentration of employees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations” and that engage in “the production of goods and services advancing the use of electronic and computer-based production methods.”

Compared to overall private industry, the high-tech sector employed more white (63.5 percent to 68.5 percent), Asian-American (5.8 percent to 14 percent) and male employees (52 percent to 64 percent). It employed a smaller share of black (14.4 percent to 7.4 percent), Hispanic (13.9 percent to 8 percent) and female workers (48 percent to 36 percent), according to the report.

The lack of diversity in high-tech industries may not be because of a lack of qualified candidates, the report pointed out. Nine percent of graduates from the nation's top computer science programs are from underrepresented minority groups. However, only 5 percent of employees at large tech firms were found to be from one of these minority groups.

Additionally, 80 percent of U.S. women working in the STEM fields say they love their work, but 32 percent also say they feel stalled and are likely to quit within the year. Inhospitable work cultures, long hours and travel schedules that conflict with responsibilities at home, a sense of isolation, and lack of advancement were among the reasons the report attributed to the loss of women in those fields.

“If corporate initiatives to stem the brain drain reduced attrition by just 25 percent, there would be 220,000 additional highly qualified female STEM workers,” the report noted, citing a 2008 paper by Hewlett-Packard.

The report also pointed to high-tech companies tending to buy, rather than train for, the skills they need.

“The reluctance of high-tech companies to train new employees could be contributing to the lack of diversity,” the report said. Additionally, “The fast-changing nature of the high-tech industry may contribute to the exit of new employees such as women and nonwhites. … In a fast-paced industry, product life cycles are growing shorter. Firms are facing more opportunities for change, requiring more adjustments to the workforce. When skills need to be adjusted, firms may find that it pays to buy the skills instead of developing them.”

What Organizations Can Do

The EEOC held a 3-hour panel discussion on the topic. Panelist Benjamin Jealous, partner at Kapor Capital and immediate past president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, suggested the following steps organizations can take to promote diversity in the high-tech industry:

  • Adopt blind screening of resumes that removes or obscures the names of job applicants and the schools they attended.
  • Use the “Rooney Rule” to add diversity to interview rounds. The rule takes its name from Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers and head of a diversity committee that produced the directive requiring National Football League teams to interview at least one minority or female candidate for head coaching and other senior positions.
  • Double the bonuses given for employee referrals of diverse candidates.
  • Apply a “distance traveled” metric when evaluating candidates. An individual from a tough neighborhood who got into and thrived at a minor state school, for example, had to overcome all sorts of adversity along the way.
  • Audit your organization’s physical environment for the messages it sends. Science-fiction posters hung on the wall of a computer science classroom for example, can send subtle messages to women that they don’t belong. Bear that in mind for your work environment.
  • Encourage the establishment of employee resource groups; sometimes, women and minorities need to be able to talk to people like themselves.
  • Update your organization’s conflict resolution process so that everyone may be heard without triggering a battle and to reiterate that managers, supervisors and subordinates alike must uphold obligations to prevent harassment and retaliation.
  • Encourage and reward employees who work with nonprofits that develop underrepresented talent.
  • Use technology to diversify your talent pool and help eliminate bias in hiring.
Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.
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