Years after most tech companies had been publishing diversity reports, Snap's CEO Evan Spiegel remained steadfast about not releasing his company's numbers. "I've always been concerned that releasing that data publicly only reinforces the perception that tech is not a place for underrepresented groups," he said during an all-hands in June 2020 after years of only releasing a report internally.
A few months later, Snap, one of the most vocal diversity report holdouts, became part of a second wave of companies that started releasing diversity data. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, others like Tesla and Oracle — which was facing a shareholder resolution on more transparency — also publicly released diversity reports. Netflix, although it had been posting diversity data on its jobs page quarterly since 2013, also released its first formal inclusion report in 2021.
The lack of a standard way to report and fears that the data could tell the wrong story have been a hindrance to more companies releasing their data, said Bernard Coleman, chief diversity and engagement officer at Gusto.
"A lot of folks I think sit on the sidelines because they don't want to get it wrong. And I think most organizations don't want to misrepresent what their data is," Coleman told Protocol. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a standard report that companies of a certain size have to fill out, many DEI professionals view it as a limited or incomplete snapshot, or as Coleman put it, "decades-behind." (For example, it only includes male and female staff, not non-binary workers.)
Tech companies started reporting their own numbers in 2014 after then-Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou issued a call to action in October 2013. Her blog post "Where are the numbers?" started an industrywide conversation about the lack of data and accountability around diversity in the tech workforce, particularly when measuring technical employees.
Big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple have all published numbers since 2014, and much of the industry has followed suit. Nearly all of the companies have sustained their commitment to releasing numbers, although their methodologies of collecting and categorizing data have changed over time. For example, Airbnb had been releasing formal diversity reports up until 2018, and then released small snippets of data as part of announcements around diversity goals after that. After Protocol reached out to the company, Airbnb ended up publishing its 2019, 2020 and first half of 2021 diversity data in a public blog post at the end of September.
While 2020 may have been a catalyst for more companies to start reporting diversity numbers, there is some concern that progress will backslide and more companies may choose to stay out of the dialogue altogether.
"I think right now you're seeing the big bifurcation within the tech industry overall," said Uber's Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Bo Young Lee.
Some companies "fully understand their responsibility not just as a corporation that makes money, but a corporation that can influence social dialogue," she said, citing Uber as one example. But then there's a growing contingent of companies and groups like Mission Protocol, which was inspired by Coinbase's anti-politics stance, that are following the idea that "corporations should not comment on, and should not take a stance on social issues [because] they have a sole responsibility, a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders."
For as much progress that 2020 brought to discussing diversity issues, the pushback could make some companies decide not to share their numbers at all. "It's relatively new that this gap is emerging in tech," Lee said. "I think that's probably one of the reasons why you still see some holdouts, because there are certain companies whose founders and leaders really believe, 'This is not our place to discuss this.'"
Additional reporting by Megan Rose Dickey.