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Tech Workers Think Industry is Diverse. Numbers Show Otherwise

March 22, 2017
According to a new survey from software company Atlassian, 94% of American tech workers give their industry a passing grade on diversity, with 60% saying their company is at least making an effort.

The lack of diversity in the tech industry is pretty well understood by now — by everyone except those who work there, it would seem. 

According to a recent survey of 1,400 tech employees, 94% of American tech workers give the industry, their companies, and their teams a passing grade on diversity. That’s in a sector where 76% of technical jobs are held by men, while blacks and Latinos make up about 5% of the workforce.

“Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and women are so underrepresented that people have lost the ability to perceive what balance is,” said Aubrey Blanche, the chief diversity officer for Atlassian Inc., which makes software for team collaboration. She commissioned the survey to benchmark her company's attitudes against the broader industry. The results were too surprising, she said, not to publicize them. So why the disconnect?

In responding to the survey, employees relied on a mix of typical Silicon Valley excuses, and gave their companies and industry credit for trying. About 60% said their company was making an effort, though they couldn’t point to any concrete action, while 20% said they didn’t think there was an issue with diversity because “we’re a meritocracy.”

That attitude probably doesn’t help. Researchers from MIT have shown that the belief that the tech industry rewards merit above all else in fact makes people more biased in hiring, promoting and rewarding workers. 48% said their company already has a diverse workforce — perhaps because tech companies do tend to employ a lot of international workers, said Blanche.

“What they are not accounting for is that there are systematic exclusion of groups in the industry,” she said.

When asked how their companies might improve on diversity measures, about half said no improvements were needed.

One other interesting note: The survey asked workers about the 2016 presidential election, and 48% said the election made them care more about diversity and 56% said it has made them reach out to colleagues from diverse backgrounds to learn more about their experiences. 

By Dina Bass

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