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Racial equity at tech companies is hard to measure. This index wants to change that.

Companies such as Uber, SurveyMonkey and others have already opted in to this new system.

Black Lives Matter sign

A new index wants to help measure racial equity across tech companies.

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Many tech companies have produced annual diversity reports for the past several years, but comparing companies to each other can be challenging, since there's still no standardized way of evaluating them. The Race Equality Index, spearheaded by the Race Equality Project, aims to do that.

"We got underwhelmed with the way companies and even external media track and rank companies based on DEI," Dion McKenzie, co-creator of the Race Equality Project, told Protocol. "It only tells one piece of the pie, and even that's not standardized across the different companies."

The index measures how companies are performing in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion, and how they stack up against their counterparts in the tech industry. Many DEI leaders are already in conversation with each other, McKenzie said, but this "allows companies to have a conversation around a similar framework."

Companies face evaluation in eight areas: benefits and education, recruiting and talent management, representation, inclusive design practice, learning, employee resource groups (ERGs), the DEI department and public statements.

Already, the index has collected data from companies such as Uber, SurveyMonkey, New Relic and GitLab. The goal is to create a definitive benchmark for equity in tech from which companies with a staff between 500 to 10,000 employees can learn and grow.

There are a handful of existing indexes that pertain to the inclusion of women, disabled people, working mothers and LGBTQIA+ employees, but there's nothing really "from a race and ethnicity standpoint," Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee told Protocol.

Uber felt motivated to participate because "there is no universally accepted index around racial equity out there," she said.

"There is no one really smashing it out the park with racial equity in tech," McKenzie said. "That's not a good thing, but it's an interesting thing when companies can see with their peers how they're doing and how off they are from the benchmark. The more companies that contribute to the index, the more beneficial it becomes."

To compile the index, companies answer questions such as "What is the current annual budget allocated for the exclusive discretion of your company's D&I leader?" and "Are your hiring managers required to interview a certain percentage of BIPOC candidates for all roles that will have direct reports?"

As an early participant in the index, Lee also provided some constructive feedback. For example, she suggested that the index take into account how race is related to socioeconomic status.

"We know that tuition support can lead to more racial equity in the workplace, but you wouldn't necessarily see it through that lens," Lee said.

Companies themselves are responsible for filling out the information. It's mostly chief diversity officers or other diversity leaders who engage with the index, Mandy Bynum, co-founder of the Race Equality Project, told Protocol. Initially, some companies gave "some pretty BS answers," but the process still led to important conversations, she said.

"All companies were on the same page, but there was still a bit of that defensiveness and white fragility, frankly, going on," Bynum explained.

In the pilot program, the index collectively gave Uber, GitLab, New Relic and SurveyMonkey an overall score of 5.8 out of 10. Collectively, the companies scored the worst in development and education and leadership and organizational development. The development and education section includes questions about, for example, whether the company provides certifications, workshops or conference attendance for BIPOC employees. Leadership and organizational development asks, for example, if the company offers professional development programs for BIPOC employees. As a group, the companies scored highest with ERGs. One question in that category asks if the named leaders of the company's ERGs are compensated for their time either through salary or bonus programs.

The Project doesn't share company-specific results with any other company, in order to encourage honest participation in the index. Instead, each company gets its own unique dashboard that shows how it compares to the aggregate of other companies in the index.

Uber did not come out at the top, Lee said, but it was good to see where it was leading, where it was on par with other companies and "where there were lagging areas."

"It gave us a sense of, 'OK, we thought we were doing well in this area. It looks like we'll have to do a bit more,'" she said. The index also validated for Uber that it's doing racial equity work across all the listed areas. "There wasn't a big, glaring hole," Lee said.

Participating companies can use the index results as a tool to support their goals and needs. Diversity leaders have previously said they've faced uphill battles at their respective companies when it comes to getting budget and resources.

"That's accurate," Bynum said.

The index found that diversity budgets of participating companies ranged from $25 per employee per year to $150 per employee per year. The index does not reveal, however, how DEI teams' budgets compare to other departments. But if one company finds that their counterparts are all doing something they're not, it could help DEI leaders' case for a bigger budget moving forward.

The index has also helped DEI leaders learn from their counterparts in other companies, McKenzie said. For example, companies in the pilot shared with others how they have gone about trying to remove implicit bias from the hiring process. For Uber, one takeaway was that it needs to do more to increase accountability among the 50 or so managers below the company's executive leadership team, Lee said.

This week, the index is rolling out to the next batch of companies. The Race Equality Project expects about 30 companies to participate in this year's index. So far, they have 20 confirmed participants that have through June to complete the questionnaire.

It's free for companies to participate in the index, but a full report will run a business about $5,000, and a deeper dive costs upwards of $12,500. Companies that participated in the pilot received everything for free.

Uber plans to participate in the upcoming index and Lee hopes that all the companies that made racial justice commitments last summer will also participate.

Uber was one of many companies that made one of these commitments last year. In July, Uber committed to being an anti-racist company. Despite that commitment, Uber's Black employee base declined from 9.3% in 2019 to 7.5% in 2020. Uber will release its next diversity report this year.

While broad support for increasing racial equity exists nationwide, Lee recognizes that they are hard conversations to have — ones that can make people feel uncomfortable.

While Lee hopes this isn't the case, "the same racial biases that exist in society may slow down the growth of the index."

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