How is the tech inclusion pledge doing, 12 months later?

How is the tech diversity pledge doing, 12 months later?

1 Dec 2017

A number of US tech multinationals signed on to the White House tech inclusion pledge in the summer of 2016. How is it doing now?

In the summer of 2016, 30 tech companies signed a White House tech inclusion pledge in a bid to “fuel American innovation and economic growth by increasing the diversity of [the] technology workforce”.

It was essentially non-binding, but the willingness of tech behemoths – such as Medium, Pinterest, Spotify and GitHub – to agree to, among other things, “annually publish data and progress metrics on the diversity of [each company’s] technology workforce” and to “implement and publish company-specific goals to recruit, retain and advance diverse technology talent” was extremely heartening.

Since this point, the number of companies that have gotten on board with the pledge has ballooned to almost 80.

Dearth of diversity

The tech industry has a diversity issue, something that is so readily apparent, it has passed the point of being an observation and morphed into a tautology. Saying it almost feels redundant, such is its obviousness. Water is wet etc.

Yet, as Tracy Chou has pointed out, despite the fact that CEOs are falling over themselves to make statements stressing how incredibly important diversity is to them, there is a dearth of data on the subject – arguably a rather glaring omission in a data-driven industry.

So, the promise of transparency is alluring and exciting in its potential to inspire companies to truly prioritise making effective structural changes to their organisations.

For one, the fate of this diversity pledge during the administration of US president Donald Trump is pretty unclear. Trump has flip-flopped wildly on his attitudes towards science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), one day pumping millions into STEM education, and removing climate change information from federal agency websites the next. However, it is worth noting that Trump being inconsistent is not a specific reflection of his attitude towards STEM as much as it is a general feature of his presidency.

The pledge was also, as previously stated, not binding. One couldn’t be blamed for taking the cynical view that the entire rigmarole was a purely symbolic one, designed to project the image of diversity as opposed to actually engendering inclusivity.

Fortune data reporter Grace Donnelly has taken the liberty of compiling a list of each organisation on the pledge and indicating to what extent they have complied with the transparency end of things.

Out of the almost 80 companies currently on board, only 17 have made “full or partial” numbers about their workforce – a full release being defined as “gender and racial or ethnic data for employees”, and a partial release denoting “other information about workforce demographics”.

To say that any who have fallen short of a full release are simply reticent or hiding something may be an oversimplification; however, other jurisdictions, such as that of Germany, have stricter data protection measures, which have thrown up some roadblocks to full disclosure.

Lyft, Airbnb, Medium, Turnitin and Pinterest are among some of the most recognisable names to release full reports. All of them report roughly similar overall gender breakdowns, which averages out at 55.94pc male – still missing out on gender parity.

When you isolate the tech gender breakdown, however, the figures are far more disappointing.

Lyft reports that a mere 18pc of its tech staff are female while Turnitin’s female tech staff makes up 24pc of the tech workforce. Pinterest comes in at 26pc, while Medium is the only company that can boast exceeding 30pc, with more than a third of its tech workforce being female (36pc). Airbnb did not provide a tech-specific breakdown.

In terms of ethnicity, the figures support the prevailing idea that tech is primarily pale as well as male. All companies (bar Pinterest) indicated a strong white majority among their workforces and, while Pinterest does not have a majority, white people make up the largest ethnic group in the company.

The amount of female and minority leaders in tech still remains painfully low for these companies. One could argue that this is a result of the remains of a legacy that did not do enough to encourage diversity, rather, it opens one up to a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string-esque argument: how long of a grace period are companies afforded before inclusiveness is observed across all roles?

While this is better than nothing, it’s still relatively lacking in information. The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google – the latter of which has had some very public issues with diversity in recent months – are not named in the pledge, and yet are the companies with perhaps the most intense need for transparency, given how much the shadow of a sordid underbelly has been thrust under the spotlight of late.

How do we reward and celebrate positive inclusive action without it evolving into over-lauding companies that are merely striving to arrive at fairness? Is it the carrot or the stick that is needed when dealing with these digital titans?

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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