Protocol | Workplace Tech Employee Survey

Hypocrisy and marketing: How workers feel about diversity in tech

A Protocol survey finds that 54% of tech workers think it's important for companies to speak out about race-related events.

Sign that says rethink your hiring practices they do not reflect justice or equality

Workers have mixed feelings about tech's diversity efforts.

Photo: Boston Globe/Getty Images

The tech industry was once a place obsessed with the idea of meritocracy, and moving fast and breaking things. There are undoubtedly still people within the industry who subscribe to those ideas, but a new era exists in tech where companies, executives and employees are rethinking their roles and responsibilities within broader society.

Last summer's racial justice protests in light of the murder of George Floyd, for example, sparked an enormous response from the tech industry. Many companies made statements in support of Black Lives Matter, and committed money to certain racial justice causes and organizations. Whether or not those statements were genuine, many tech workers believe that companies do have a responsibility to speak out about race-related events, and they expect to be able to discuss social and political issues at work.

In a new Protocol survey, in partnership with Morning Consult, 54% of tech workers said companies have a responsibility to speak up about tragic and/or racially motivated events affecting racial or ethnic minorities, and that they appreciate it when their companies do this. Over half (59%) of Black tech workers who responded said it was important for companies to make a statement, and felt most strongly about companies speaking out about those types of events compared to other racial groups.

It was actually Pinterest's statement about Black lives mattering that encouraged tech whistleblower Ifeoma Ozoma, a Black woman, to speak up about her experience at Pinterest when she did. But it's perhaps not for the reason one would expect.

"Nothing gets me more jazzed than hypocrisy," Ozoma said earlier this week at a Protocol Live event. "At some point, I probably would have told my story, but that date was moved up because of Pinterest's statement."

Ozoma does not believe Pinterest or any other tech company has lived up to the message that Black lives do matter. In order to live up to that message, Ozoma recommends simply paying people fairly as a starting point.

"That seems like a pretty good baseline for saying that Black employees and Black lives matter," she said. "And then from there, we can have a conversation. But so many companies are not even doing that baseline ... so there isn't a conversation to be had yet, and certainly not about the marketing-focused diversity initiatives that many companies are currently engaged in."

Many tech companies talk about working to close the wage gap, and many say they have. However, wage gaps are still common throughout the tech industry. Black job candidates, for example, received offers that were 4% lower in salary than those received by white men, according to a 2021 pay equity report from Hired.

Meanwhile, diversity representation numbers have improved over the years, but no major tech company is anywhere close to achieving full demographic parity.

Project Include, led by CEO Ellen Pao, has previously outlined a roadmap for tech companies to achieve parity in the workplace. In order to achieve parity, companies should aim for the following employee representation: 13% Black, 17% Latinx, 5% nonbinary and 45% women.

But many tech companies are nowhere near those figures. Amazon is the only major tech company that comes somewhat close, but there's still a large gap between where it is and where it needs to be. Amazon says its corporate U.S. workforce is 7.2% Black, 7.5% Latinx and 31.4% female, according to its latest diversity numbers.

Despite the limited progress over the years, 87% of technology workers agreed that their respective companies take diversity, equity and inclusion seriously, according to Protocol's worker survey. That positivity declines, however, when looking at the responses of Black and Latinx tech workers, which drops to 83% and 81%, respectively.

In the event that companies don't take diversity and inclusion seriously, workers seem empowered to speak up. According to our survey, 71% of workers say it's important to discuss politics and other social issues at work and 72% of tech workers say they're comfortable doing so.

Though, perhaps unsurprisingly, white people (75%) feel most comfortable talking about these issues, compared to just 58% of Black workers and 62% of Asian American workers. Millennials (86%) feel the most comfortable talking about these issues, followed by those in Gen X (72%), Gen Z (60%) and the Baby Boomer generation (55%).

When Basecamp decided to pull a Coinbase and ban internal discussions of politics and social issues, the backlash was swift. Within a week of the announcement, about 34% of Basecamp's workforce announced their resignations.

Since then, many other companies have spoken out in support of having social and political discussions at their companies. Expensify is one of them.

"I think that the idea that somehow companies are, you know, separate from society is just crazy," Expensify CEO David Barrett said in a Protocol event earlier this week.

Barrett said it's absurd for companies to restrict those types of conversations, especially given how much time people spend at work. He added that "everything is political" and it's simply "part of being human."

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