How has a lack of diversity influenced the development of the internet?

Eloise Gyles

Although modern society may perceive the internet as a diverse and welcoming network, in many ways, lack of diversity has been a primary driving force behind media advances that have molded the web as we know it today. Since its inception, the internet has faced a plethora of issues surrounding diversity and representation, both in terms of the tech industry broadly and content created within the networks themselves. This article will explore the ongoing challenge of representation within the IT industry and detail the progressive changes made across the internet that have contributed to the inclusive environment, we all know today.

Tech Industry

The internet is ever-changing and continuously developing as society and technological networks advance. Lack of diversity in tech industry employment, however, dates back to the origins of the internet in the early 1980s. Although efforts have been made to improve the underrepresentation both in terms of gender and race, it remains an ongoing issue for economic and social reasons today (Branch & Alegria, 2018). The technological sector is one that has significant implications for the development of the internet and the apparent lack of diversity has harmful impacts on both the workforce and society as a whole.

Lack of diversity in IT staff acquisition has caused:

– Underrepresentation of minorities
– Perpetuated stereotypes that exist within the industry
– Increased staff turnover rates

Women are underpaid and underrepresented disproportionately within the sector, making up only 25% of all computer-science related jobs (Volges, 2021). With a market cap of over $1.86 trillion USD, Microsoft is the second-largest tech corporation in existence, however just 4.7% of its workforce is made up of African American individuals, and only 6.4% of positions are held by people of Hispanic descent (Volges, 2021). Silicon Valley is a global hub for technology located in Northern California and the percentage of minority employment positions remains alarmingly low. According to sociologist France Twine, only 1.8% of Google’s workforce is made of up women and people of Hispanic descent (Twine, 2018). This lack of diversity hinders society’s perception of the workforce as well as the industry’s ability to authentically reflect a range of viewpoints and opinions, which has an impact on the development of the internet and network systems by fostering prejudices and personal biases regarding certain groups. According to research done in 2021 by Wiley, a sizable academic publishing company, 68% of tech companies believe their workplaces are not diverse enough. 68% of the more than 2,000 respondents, both employees, and management, stated that their gender, race, and socioeconomic background made them feel uncomfortable at work (Wiley Edge, 2021). This remains an ongoing challenge for businesses within the industry as society and employees today hold higher expectations for workplace environments that are inclusive of their diverse opinions and place priority on services that can meet their specific needs.


Sourced from: Company Reports, Statistica, 2021
Sourced from: Zippia, 2022


Early Models Of Communication

Aside from the general lack of diversity within online software firms, Web 2.0 and the push for the inclusion of user-generated content have had a significant impact on the material produced within internet networks. Prior to the development of the internet and media network systems, early models of communication saw audiences as passive participants in a linear process where media messages were transferred in a way-one manner (McQuail, 2013).


Sourced from: Businesstopia, 2019


This idea was known as the Hypodermic Needle Theory, a term coined by American political scientist Harold Lasswell in 1927 that assumed mass communication was possible as the audience was viewed as one large entity (Lasswell, 1927). This out-of-date notion had negative effects on cultural, social, and political meaning and ran the risk of misrepresentation, stereotyping, misinformation, and lack of diversity on issues like race, gender, and disability awareness. The media, including television, news, radio, film, and advertising, were notably underrepresented. Media representation is crucial for the development and propagation of social ideas and affects how we interact with others. Therefore, internet stereotypes support a particular ideology about people and groups, which opens the door for exclusion and discrimination in society. The internet’s evolution into the environment it is in today was driven by the lack of diversity apparent in the one-way communication model.



User-generated Content 

With the advent of Web 2.0 in 2004, internet networks underwent a dramatic breakthrough that produced unmatched diversity by enabling users to create and share user-generated content. The nature of knowing how the media impacts its audience has altered as a result of technological progression and advancement in media systems, blurring the distinction between sender and receiver (Rodrigues, 2019). According to Professor Denis McQuail, the rise of multi-device consumption enables people to create and share their perspectives across a variety of digital platforms, changing the conventional linear model of communication to one of circular network connectivity (McQuail, 2013). User-generated material thus becomes a new modality through which the diversity of cultures is better represented and promoted across the internet globally. The current digital environment now gives people new opportunities to express themselves in ways that reflect their national and cultural identities more accurately and authentically.

More individuals having access to the internet has sped up the development of media platforms and participatory culture, with over 3.96 billion users worldwide now creating and consuming media material (Dian, 2021). Platforms have emerged, as a result, as one of the most prevalent business models of modern capitalism thanks to users’ capacity to freely communicate across a variety of digital outlets (Rahman, 2019). The developments made to the internet, as a result of the initial lack of diversity, have brought about significant change to media consumption and traditional internet business models and created an environment that is more inclusive and representative of different cultures and ideas (Arnold, 2010). E-marketing and the generation of influencer content creation is now an essential element of 21st-century businesses, with 93% of marketers using influential individuals in their campaigns and strategic business plans (Santora, 2022). This content, created by diverse individuals has aided the commercialisation of the internet, with influencer marketing forecast to reach a net worth of $15 billion by the end of 2022 (Schomer, 2019). Internet brands today have a focus on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program (DEI) that promotes representation of different cultural groups, sexualities, ages, races, and genders as key to business success (Taylor, 2021).  One company that adopted the DEI strategy is Nordstrom, which in 2020, created a 5-year plan to advance racial equality. The focus of the campaign was to promote Black, and Latina-owned products and they did so through influencer-generated marketing. Tierra Monet, a Black social media influencer was used throughout the campaign to spread awareness of the minority-owned products available throughout the Nordstrom stores. The cultural representation apparent through this campaign, as well as with many influencer collaborations, positively impacts the audience base and society through trust and relatability with a variety of cultural and social groups. individual content creation has developed to become a powerful marketing tool in the contemporary digital environment, and one that spurred directly from the effects that a lack of diversity and representation was having on society. If followers feel connected to, and understood by content creators, their opinions become powerful tools for influence and audience inclusivity.


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Although we as a society have not yet achieved complete inclusivity in many aspects of the technological environment, there has been significant advancement since its inception. Lack of diversity has, to a significant extent, been a key catalyst in the development of the internet and digital networks. The emergence of user-generated content and digital platformisation altered the nature of online diversity and modified how we previously understood communication to become what it is today. Although the fight for representation and change within the IT sector is still prominent, significant advancements in media and content creation have been developed that support more diversity and general cultural and social inclusion.


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