People of color continue to represent a fraction of the workforce in the tech industry today, comprising just five percent of tech employees – much lower than the private sector – and even while they are more than 25 percent of the U.S. population, says a new report. The numbers for top management positions are even more abysmal: just three percent of tech executives are Hispanic, and barely one percent of those executives are Latinas.
“In a country with a population growing more diverse each day, the U.S. tech community is monochromatic, a bastion of white, male privilege. People of color largely remain shut out of the tech industry. It cannot go on this way,” says the Feb. 8 report, "Breaking The Mold: Investing in Racial Diversity in Tech" by the non-profit Open Mic group, an organization that advocates for greater shareholder participation in a company’s performance.
But while the low number of minorities has been a long-standing issue in the tech industry and especially among some of the largest tech companies in the United States, the report suggests adopting a more proactive approach that will perhaps push the companies to move on those stagnant numbers: shareholder engagement. If more shareholders held companies’ feet to the fire on diversifying their ranks, more companies are likely to listen and move faster. Bottom line, adds the report, it makes business sense to be diverse.
“As an individual investor, I look for companies that fit my ethics, my morals, and my standards,” says Tony Maldonado II, an Apple shareholder who filed a proposal calling on the company to increase its diversity among the top ranks.
“Apple appears to lack input from a very diverse team and they struggle with sales in Africa, India, and Latin America, which affects their bottom line and my investment,” Maldonado said during a teleconference with reporters.
For example, just two of Apple’s 107 top executives are Latino and none are on Apple’s board. Apple shareholders are voting on Maldonado’s “accelerated recruitment policy” measure later this month at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in California.
Apple is of course far from the sole company missing the mark on diversity, as the report states. It recommends that investors -- i.e., shareholders like Maldonado -- push for more detailed data on gender and race, including employees by function, seniority, and tenure, and whether they are on staff or contract, and list the number of employees reporting to female or minority managers.
“Diversity efforts can be most effective when they move beyond reacting to the lack of diversity and toward creating an alternative environment that works for all,” says the report, which also recommends developing and disclosing goals and public commitments for racial diversity that have a specific time frame in mind, and link executive compensation and employee incentives to achieving those goals.
It's not just tech companies that are pushing for a diverse workforce. While not a tech company per se, the average General Motors automobile has millions of lines of code in its cars and company executives are looking at ways to keep up with technology's rapid growth while increasing diversity.
GM has partnered with Girls Who Code, a national non-profit group helping middle school girls in underserved communities gain access to technology and narrow the gender and racial gap in the tech industry.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘my daughter is going to study engineering because of you," said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra to NBC Latino at a recent media roundtable in Detroit. She said people want to see "someone like them" in important positions.
“I sit here today because 20 years ago people invested in me when I was young engineer," said Barra. "We want to get to where we represent the demographics of the country. The goal is (to get to where) we’re not talking about, that it’s natural,” and becomes a reality, said GM's CEO.
Patricia Guadalupe is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Guadalupe has reported for several media outlets, including National Public Radio's Latino USA, CBS Radio and Pacifica Radio Network.