The technology industry has a major diversity issue, particularly regarding the gender, age, and ethnicity of its employees. Silicon Valley has an abundance of Caucasian or Asian men, yet the diversification stops there (Weise, 2014). This issue has been found among the world’s largest companies (Ly-Le, 2022). Only 25% of computing employees are women (National Center for Women & Information Technology, 2016), while only 7% of high-tech employees are Black and 8% are Hispanic (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2014). In 2018, Google released a workforce composition report, where they outlined their employee gender and ethnicity percentages from the previous 5 years. It found 83% of tech employees in 2014 were male, with only a 5% difference in 2018 at 78%. Moreover, in 2014, 60% were white while 34% were Asian, leaving only 6% of employees being of different ethnicity. The following 5 years saw only a 2% increase in ethnic diversity (Google, 2018). Other major tech companies consist of similar statistics, with many minority employees speaking out against these companies.
In 2010, Facebook received backlash regarding the absence of racial diversity among its employees. In response, the company began a diversity initiative, investing several resources and finances into the recruitment and training of a diverse range of new employees. Other companies, such as Apple, Google, Intel, Pinterest, and Twitter soon followed suit, implementing their own diversity initiatives (Alfrey, 2022). It is estimated that the tech industry spent $1.2 billion USD in efforts to increase diversity over the last decade, however, these attempts were seen to be ineffective (Stangel, 2017). Women are still underrepresented and there remains an overwhelming majority of White or Asian males.
Where does this demographic bias come from?
The core of this issue has been investigated for years. Blame has been directed towards several areas including company recruitment, education facilities and the workplace environment in the tech industry. There is somewhat of a ‘recruitment bias’ in the tech industry, with employers recruiting from the same universities they have done in the past, unwilling to consider alternative education facilities (Hurst, 2021). Moreover, while computer science and technology-related subjects have increased in high school education, only 53% of schools in the US offer tech subjects, with most being private schools with an abundance of funding (Code Advocacy Coalition, 2022). Therefore, minority students who cannot attend these schools are not receiving early exposure to technology, reducing their interest to study such fields at a higher level. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, only 15% of computer science, engineering and technology university graduates are female (National Girls Collaborative Project, 2022), moreover, fewer black and Hispanic people are studying a tech-related degree than any other University degree (Fry et al., 2021). Therefore, the low number of women and minorities who are interested in studying tech-related subjects directly influences the lack of diversity in the tech industry.
The reason why female and minority groups do not study technology subject could be due to several factors. There was a study conducted regarding individual perspectives on the tech industry, where the most common finding was the misleading belief that a relevant degree or coding background is required (Singh, 2021). Therefore, individuals who do not have a high-level technology-related degree or coding background feel they are not qualified to enter the industry, ultimately not attempting the profession. Moreover, another reason could be the publicised negative environment within the tech industry targeted towards women. For example, following her departure from the programming network GitHub in 2014, engineer Julie Ann Horvath publicly came forward claiming the company retained a ‘sexist internal culture’ characterising the tech industry as a ‘Boys Club’. Horvath expressed her feeling of being ‘unwelcomed’ and treated differently ‘due to her gender and not the quality of her work’ (Wilhelm & Tsotsis, 2014). Furthermore, the lack of diversity in the tech industry has limited the number of women and minorities choosing to work in the field. A study conducted by Kaspersky on female tech employees found that 38% of female participants saw the lack of females in the industry made them wary of joining the profession (Kaspersky, 2021).
The influence on internet development
A diverse workforce has proven to enhance creativity, perspective, and problem-solving, and can gain a competitive advantage (McCuiston et al., 2004), while companies that do not seek diversity are likely to fall behind in innovation and technological advancement. (Ly-Le, 2022). Diversity among tech developers boosts the innovative possibilities on the internet. Director of Research and Development at Keysight, Ken Nishimura, explains that it is essential for diversity in the development of the internet as “it takes many areas of expertise to figure out how new technologies will work… no one person or discipline is going to cover all the different aspect”. Furthermore, a study conducted by The International Society for Professional Innovation Management found a relationship between a diverse network team and innovative performance (Beck et al., 2012). Tech companies with higher diversity levels are estimated to produce 45% of their total revenue from innovation (Lorenzo et al., 2018) Thus, a diverse team allows internet companies the necessary perspectives and insights to understand their customers’ wants and needs, and the ability to produce innovative internet products.
When diversity is not a priority, companies often lack an understanding of different cultures and their needs, significantly reducing the market area for their products and services (Stahl, 2021). Today, online consumers are more diverse than they have ever been, consisting of an array of consumer needs. A diverse team is crucial to give technology companies the perspective to understand the developing needs of consumers (Prabhakar et al., 2019). It is human nature to view and interact with information from the personal perspective you grew up in, therefore diversity removes that bias to address needs from multiple viewpoints from a diverse group who each think differently (McClure, 2021). It is argued that the best people to address consumer needs is from those with similar backgrounds, have it be the same ethnicity, gender or sexuality (Robinson et al., 1997) Therefore, a diverse workforce is a crucial factor in the successful development of the internet and major technology companies to ensure perspective and understanding of internet users.
Implication on minorities online
With major tech companies underrepresenting a diverse range of employees, their internet solutions hold little relevance to minority groups, as they do not understand their internet needs, provoking a sense of being unwelcomed or not valued. This directly harms minority groups and individuals on the internet. An example of minority exclusion is the lack of linguistic diversity online. The ability to access and use the internet in people’s personal scripts and languages has been a goal since the development of the internet. Without these cultures being presented among the employees of these internet companies, this goal has regularly been disregarded (Pimienta et al., 2009). The statistics for language diversity on the internet are comparable to the employee diversity of Internet companies. According to a study conducted by The Guardian, the Internet has been designed based on specific language groups, English and Chinese, limiting the possibility for people from other cultures, speaking different languages to use the Internet to its full potential. The Internet has been developed for communication and access to information, however, the Internet experience differs for those who do not speak one of the Internet’s primary languages (Young, 2016). Thus, there is evidence to indicate that the lack of diversity within the tech industry has had a flow-on effect on internet engagement by these minority groups.
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