Everyone Knows Tech Workers Are Mostly White Men—Except Tech Workers

No big deal, right? “We’re a meritocracy.”

Tech Workers Wrongly Perceive Industry Diversity

The lack of diversity in the tech industry is pretty well understood by now—by everyone except those who work there, it would seem. According to a recent survey of 1,400 tech employees, 94 percent of American tech workers give the industry, their companies, and their teams a passing grade on diversity. That’s in a sector where 76 percent of technical jobs are held by men, and blacks and Latinos make up only 5 percent of the workforce.

“Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans  and women are so underrepresented that people have lost the ability to perceive what balance is,” said Aubrey Blanche, the chief diversity officer for Atlassian Inc., which makes software for team collaboration. She commissioned the survey to benchmark her company's attitudes against the broader industry. The results were too surprising, she said, not to publicize them.  

So why the disconnect?

In responding to the survey, employees relied on a mix of typical Silicon Valley excuses, and gave their companies and industry credit for trying. Sixty percent said their company was making an effort, though they couldn’t point to any concrete action. Twenty percent said they didn’t think there was an issue with diversity because “we’re a meritocracy.”

That attitude probably doesn’t help. Researchers from MIT have shown that the belief that the tech industry rewards merit above all else in fact makes people more biased in hiring, promoting and rewarding workers.

Forty-eight percent said their company already has a diverse workforce—perhaps because tech companies do tend to employ a lot of international workers, said Blanche. “What they are not accounting for is that there are systematic exclusion of groups in the industry,” she said.

When asked how their companies might improve on diversity measures, about half said no improvements were needed.

The survey also asked workers about the 2016 presidential election. Forty-eight percent said the election made them care more about diversity  and 56 percent said it has made them reach out to colleagues from diverse backgrounds to learn more about their experiences—assuming, of course, they could find them. 

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