Workplace

Report: Big Tech isn't just white. It's segregated.

TechEquity Collaborative’s Contract Worker Disparity Project reveals the gulf between contractors and employees.

A worker at a desk.

The report documents the many inequities facing contract workers in the tech industry.

Photo: 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

The tech industry is bolstered by a huge shadow workforce, workers who are either temporary, contingent or on a contract and who receive different pay, benefits and protections than those considered employees.

“Not only are you underpaid, but you feel undervalued,” Google contract worker Rachael Sawyer told Protocol. “It’s as if we’re expected to play as a team, but we’re not even allowed into the same league.”

Contract workers are hired through a third-party staffing agency but work day-to-day for tech companies in both low-wage service jobs like janitors and high-wage technical work like software engineers.

The TechEquity Collaborative just released its Contract Worker Disparity Project, which documents the many inequities facing contract workers in the tech industry. The report claims that some of the disparities include job insecurity and a lack of opportunity to speak up against harassment and other workplace issues, as well as pay inequity. Meanwhile, contract workers are oftentimes doing the same work as their employee counterparts.

According to research by TechEquity and Project Include, “contract and temp workers are more likely to be Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, women, and nonbinary people than those hired in the direct workforce.” This leads to what the report calls “occupational segregation.” TechEquity says contract workers of color are less likely to be converted to direct employment than white contractors, and they’re also more likely to be paid hourly rather than annually and more likely to receive lower pay.

Tech Employment by Race: Direct Employees vs. Contract Workers Image: TechEquity Collaborative

Contracting makes sense for many companies in all industries, and it makes even more sense for tech, where the overwhelming ethos is to move fast and stay agile. But the new report reveals how wide the gulf is between contractors and direct employees in Silicon Valley.

Catherine Bracy, the co-founder and CEO of the TechEquity Collaborative, says venture capital in the tech industry creates a demand that “supercharges the practice of keeping headcount low but growing as much as possible.” According to Bracy, ingrained in Silicon Valley culture is the celebration of companies like Instagram that are bought for $1 billion with only 13 full-time employees.

As of March 2019 Google employed 121,000 contract workers and 102,000 direct employees. Sawyer is one of those contract workers with Accenture for the production team at Google, as well as a steward in the Alphabet Workers Union. She’s been on the Google contract for just over two years, having previously worked on another Accenture contract with Meta. At Google, she helps write help center content and knowledge-based content, as well as legal documentation for the production team.

Sawyer told Protocol that the hardest part of her job is knowing about the reported wage disparity between herself and direct Google employees. While companies like Google are setting reported minimum wages with their vendors and staffing agencies, Sawyer said that the differences go beyond pay and include things like vacation and time off. For example, she said her team is not allowed to work during Google’s global wellbeing days that are given to employees. Unlike employees, however, they are not paid for those days off. Sawyer said she also doesn’t have access to sick leave, another contrast to direct employees.

Sawyer’s experience echoes the report's findings. She said that no one on her team has ever been able to transition to direct employee without leaving the team. “You could have a lifetime of experience, and you’re going to be treated as someone who’s on that lower tier of the two-tier tech system going forward, possibly for the rest of your career,” she said.

Amazon, Apple, Meta and Microsoft were not available for immediate comment on their contract workforce. A Google spokesperson declined to comment but did provide a link to the company’s public page on its extended workforce.

A big issue lies in the reporting structure, which is difficult to navigate, according to the report’s findings. These workers are oftentimes managed directly by an employee at the tech company, but their pay, benefits and legal protections are handled by the staffing agency. As a result, contract workers are forced to deal with confusing expectations, inconsistent communication and stressful bureaucracy, according to advocates.

TechEquity argues that relying on a huge contract workforce is also a potential liability for tech companies themselves, since there often isn’t visibility into how much of the labor contracts they sign is allocated towards worker pay and benefits. Plus, these contracting agencies take upward of 30% of what tech companies pay them in recruiting and contracting fees, a big cut of workers’ potential earnings, according to the project’s research.

The report suggests some corporate and public policy solutions to these worker disparities. Chief among them is urging tech companies to require higher standards from vendors when it comes to worker wages and benefits. It also recommends that companies provide contract workers means and processes for raising concerns around workplace safety violations, as well as outline clearer pathways to direct employment.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins