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Report finds little change in tech industry leadership diversity

Asian women were the least represented group as executives when compared to their representation in the tech industry’s professional workforce.

by Chris Fuchs /
Attendees working on Apple Inc. laptop computers participate in the TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 Hackathon in London, U.K., on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015.Bloomberg via Getty Images

Asians are least likely to be promoted to managerial or executive positions in the San Francisco Bay Area’s technology sector, even as they are the largest minority group of professionals and are most likely to be hired, according to one study.

The findings come from a report entitled “The Illusion of Asian Success,” released in October by the Ascend Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for Asians in business.

The group analyzed publicly available data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as well as several companies’ self-published EEOC diversity reports. The data set ranged from 2007 to 2015 and includes hundreds of companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, among them Apple, Facebook, and Google.

The study found that diversity in technology leadership roles had generally stagnated over the last decade, despite the Bay Area being home to what the Ascend Foundation calls “one of the most heterogenous populations” in the country.

In 2007, 1 percent of tech executives were black, according to data analyzed by the Ascend Foundation, while 3.5 were Hispanic. In 2015, 1.1 percent were black and 3.4 Hispanic.

“If you look at the diversity programs put together as a sector, as a region, as a whole, as a collective, the industry has failed,” Buck Gee, coauthor of the report and Ascend executive advisor, told NBC News.

Among the key findings:

  • Asian women were the least represented group as executives when compared to their representation in the tech industry’s professional workforce, even as white women were more successful in reaching the executive level than all minority men or women.
  • Black and Hispanic representation in the professional workforce had declined, despite efforts to hire more underrepresented minorities, and they were much less likely than whites to become executives. In 2007, 2.5 percent of the tech industry’s professional workforce was Black while 5.2 percent was Hispanic, according to data analyzed by Ascend. In 2015, 1.9 percent was Black and 4.8 percent Hispanic.

The data did show that the overall number of minority executives increased 27 percent from 2007 to 2015, with data showing that Asians had the largest jump of 59 percent, from 2,041 executives in 2007 to 3,238 in 2015.

But while that number may seem significant, the study maintains that Asians were actually not as successfully promoted to the executive level as they were recruited into the technology sector.

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The claim comes from the fact that Asians accounted for just 1 in 4 executives in 2015, according to the report. Yet they made up 47 percent of the Bay Area tech sector’s professional workforce — the largest among all racial groups, according to the report.

Whites, while accounting for a similar chunk of the workforce, represented nearly 69 percent of executives, the study said.

“The common perception is that there are plenty of Asians in high level positions, executive positions in tech,” Gee said. “The fact is, there are. The thing that’s misunderstood about it is that on a relative basis, we’re underrepresented relative to our numbers in the workforce.”

The study also found there was very little change between 2007 and 2015 for any race in the percentage of managers over the percentage of professionals, a quotient it calls the “management parity index.”

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That finding counters the belief that millennials — a group said to be more comfortable in diverse and inclusive workplaces — will bridge the executive gap for Asians, blacks, and Hispanics, according to the report.

“You would expect more millennials, as they come into the workforce, as they grow in the workforce in their companies, that they’d be promoted,” Denise Peck, coauthor of the report and an Ascend executive advisor, said. “But really, things haven’t changed.”

The study concluded that Asians in the Bay Area tech sector were not only least likely to be executives in 2015 — they were, in fact, the only minority group underrepresented in middle management — but also least likely to become executives in the near future.

"For Asians, there's no issue with attracting them and getting them into the companies,” Peck said. “But the focus is really on developing the talent and promoting them into leadership positions."

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