An Open Letter On the State of Women of Color in Technologyon July 2nd, 2015
Below is an open letter from Women of Color in Tech, an organization focused on tech inclusion, advocacy, and providing support & community for Latina, Indigenous/Native and Black women tech professionals. You can follow their work at www.wocintech.org, or if you are a WoC in tech join their exclusive online & offline communities by completing this form. Their newly launched Twitter profile is @wocintech. The organization is comprised of underrepresented women of color engineers, product managers, designers, lawyers, writers, marketing professionals, and more.
Across the Internet, headlines have lambasted the tech giants for their failed inclusion efforts.
Reports USA Today: “In all, Facebook hired 36 African American employees in 2014 even as it added a total of 1,216 employees.” Alternet also reports that in 2014, “…Facebook’s black female headcount increased by just one person over 2013 to 11.” And according to new 2015 data, while the representation of Asian employees went up slightly over the previous year, the percentage of Latino/a and Black workers at Facebook has stayed stagnant at 4% and 2% — while in the tech workforce and in senior management, the numbers are even more dismal.
The pattern continues at Twitter and Google. Despite Google’s many public commitments to improving since initially releasing its diversity data last year, new disclosures show their overall workforce remains only 2% Black and 3% Hispanic, the proportions even lower among its technical staff. And, according to its most recent EEO filings, Twitter has only 68 Latino/a employees, and three American Indian or Alaskan Native employees; among its 49 Black employees, a mere 14 are Black women.
If this pattern remains consistent, we anticipate that the statistics provided by other large technology companies will closely mirror this data. As Latina, Native, and Black women professionals in the technology sector, we are especially underrepresented as compared both to our male of color peers, and our White and Asian female colleagues. We came together to build a private community based on principles of mutual support, fellowship & reciprocity. The following is our statement on the current state of affairs in technology inclusion efforts:
We are deeply dismayed by the recent reports describing the static percentages of Black, Native, and Latina women employed at major tech companies. It is clear that despite the public emphasis on increasing diversity in technology, we continue to be especially underrepresented. The reality of this continued lack of representation is not only troubling, but cause for alarm. While Facebook, Twitter and Google have dedicated substantial financial and staff resources towards addressing these issues of underrepresentation, it is unclear how their efforts have yielded such little progress. Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of demands, solutions and recommendations:
Make modifications to the hiring and recruiting process.
Implement new policies and procedures, and run pilot tests. Tech companies must take the challenge to hire candidates from non-traditional channels, like individuals from DIFFERENT schools and backgrounds. Facebook’s hiring practices are a case in point of where tech hiring remains flawed: they rely heavily on referrals (⅓ weighed), and MANDATE candidates have a Facebook account – imagine all the info! Pictures, data, friend groups all of these things trigger hundreds of biases. Similar to Facebook, recruiting is biased at Google and Twitter: referrals get the golden treatment, and that is limited to self-selecting, homogenous networks of mainly white people.
Share strategies with one another.
If all of the tech behemoths truly aim to increase their diversity, would it not be in their best interest to share hiring approaches regarding what has worked and what has NOT worked?
Reach out to us.
Talk to Black, Native, and Latina women already employed in the sector. Organizations like Avion Ventures, Women of Color in Tech, & Hack the Hood have “binders full of underrepresented women of color” in the technology sector. Atipica, an organization started by a Latina immigrant, provides a software solution to disrupt these biases. Many of us have firsthand experience and are willing to consult with you to help you get it right — but remember, you need to pay us for our work.
Make retention a top priority.
The task is not simply recruiting for a more inclusive workforce, but retention of said employees. Look at it this way – if you’re a marginalized person, why would you want to join a certain tech company? What kind of reputation and environment do they have around diversity? At what levels is diversity supported and invested in? The shift needs to be holistic, comprehensive, and at all levels.
Create more connections to our communities.
Google has done an excellent job of investing in the pipeline, starting with K-12 outreach. There need to be more partnerships and connections between marginalized communities and these companies. There needs to be more exposure, education, and hands-on experience with this space very early on. There needs to be mentorship as well – show role models and examples of how people from diverse backgrounds have entered and now thrive in the space.
Make unconscious bias training mandatory.
Google has an unconscious bias workshop that’s still optional. We believe it should be mandatory for everyone, and it should be ongoing. Such initiatives will certainly help with the retention of diverse candidates. Google and other tech companies could also work together to create and open source their curriculums for feedback and ongoing iteration.
Develop best practices.
Just as there are commonly agreed upon best practices for engineers, developing a protocol that may be replicated amongst companies for recruiting and retaining diverse talent would be an excellent step.
Hire us as full-time employees.
Many tech startups and companies employ contractors who are often more diverse than their FT hires, but remain underpaid, deprived of benefits and stock, and treated poorly compared to full-time hires. Companies should create a pipeline process pulling talent from contract roles, particularly if they are workers from under-represented groups. Provide scholarships, internships and/or apprenticeships to the children of your cooks, maids, guards and janitors, as Microsoft has done.
Look beyond the Ivy League pipeline.
Recruiting from HBCU (historically black college & university) & HSI (Hispanic serving institutions) campuses is a great strategy and essential first step. However, inclusion efforts could also include recruitment from community colleges. Another approach would be to offer career exploration or coding classes to train and recruit employees from non-traditional backgrounds.
Our hope is that this piece has highlighted that this lack of representation is a solvable problem. Latina, Indigenous and Black women are essential and innovative users of tech platforms, and need to be included and centered in their creation. Tech inclusion is not merely about ensuring that underrepresented women of color have access to a “piece of the pie.” Technology companies are helping to shape the future not only of our nation, but our globe. The architects of our collective future must originate in a broad range of socioeconomic, racial & gender experiences. Inclusion certainly provides economic benefits by improving the bottom line. But even more importantly, it brings us closer to fulfilling the promise of technology which is transformative and socially impactful.