Big Tech's leaders are overwhelmingly white men. Their tenures last longer too.
New data from Protocol analyzes the tenures of Big Tech leadership. What we found: Men outlast women, and white executives outlast leaders of color.
Collectively, Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft employ over 2 million people globally. But in the C-suites and private Zoom rooms at the top, only a few dozen people call the shots at the world’s biggest tech companies.
Given how much power these select few wield, we decided to analyze retention in the upper echelons of the companies that create the products and services we rely on in our daily lives. To our knowledge, no one has dived into this data to this extent, despite the outsized influence of these executives.
We already knew that tech leadership is and has historically been overwhelmingly white and male. What our analysis revealed is that the few women and people of color who do make it into these ranks don’t last as long in their roles as white male executives.
These findings are new, but the story isn’t: Companies are working harder and doing better at hiring underrepresented people for entry and mid-level roles. But are they getting these employees to stay, and are they promoting them to positions of power?
As SoftBank Investment Advisers’ Chief People Officer Catherine Lenson recently told Protocol, “We spend a lot of time thinking about recruitment and attraction. We spend less time thinking about retention and promotion.”
How that manifests in the org charts of these companies is clear: When it comes to retention and promotion, Big Tech still has a ways to go, especially at the top.
We set out to answer: How do the tenures of women and people of color compare to that of their white male peers in the leadership ranks of Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft? Alphabet didn't exist until 2015, so for consistency’s sake, we used Google’s tenure numbers. We compiled and analyzed data from publicly available sources: SEC filings, press releases and news stories, and directly from the companies themselves.
We chose to focus on seven key roles and the three most recent people to occupy each of those roles: CEO, finance, operations, diversity, people, marketing and legal. We chose these roles as they were the most consistent across companies. In some cases, only one or two people have occupied a role during the company’s existence (for example, Mark Zuckerberg as the CEO of Meta). Altogether, our data set consisted of 77 executives across five companies.
It’s worth noting that some of the roles that we chose to compare are not technically C-suite roles, given that the person in the role doesn’t report directly to the CEO, as is often the case for heads of diversity. For example, Microsoft Chief Diversity Officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre reports to Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan, not Satya Nadella. Still, we chose to include these roles in our analysis in order to determine how the tenures of people in these positions compare to those of other tech leaders, particularly since our data showed that diversity heads are often women of color.
What we found
The tenures of women in the leadership ranks of the major tech companies are more than a year shorter on average than that of men. (See charts above.) White executives had the longest tenures on average, and Hispanic executives had the shortest, although it’s worth noting that there were only two Hispanic executives across all five of these companies during our period of analysis: George Reyes, the former CFO of Google, and Antonio Lucio, the former CMO of Meta. Among titles, diversity heads had the shortest tenures on average, and CEOs had the longest.
Chief diversity officers are in high demand, but turnover is high. Corporate interest in diversity has been rising, but so too have the pressures and challenges faced by the executives helming those efforts.
In terms of gender, men outlasted women across Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Meta’s female tenure numbers were lifted by the 13-plus year careers of Sheryl Sandberg and Head of People Lori Goler.
In terms of race, our data was limited, in part because neither Amazon nor Apple had any Hispanic or Asian executives in these roles during this time. In both cases, the companies’ white executives outlasted their Black counterparts by a number of years. However, Black tenure surpassed white in a few cases. David Drummond was chief legal officer at Alphabet and, prior to that, at Google, for over 17 years, which had a large impact on the average tenures of Black executives as a whole.
It’s clear from our reporting that Big Tech is far from achieving gender and racial parity within its leadership ranks, and it can’t get there without focusing on retaining and promoting women and people of color. Our colleague Amber Burton highlighted 10 execs who are leading the charge in recruiting and retaining talent across the industry. Allison Levitsky and Lizzy Lawrence also dove deep into the difficulties in hiring and keeping talent and what to do about it. In short: Flexibility and compensation are not enough. You’ve also got to have a clear mission and room for all employees to grow.