New Study Finds Out Why Women, Blacks, and Hispanics Are Saying Goodbye to Tech Companies

Toxic workplaces — where harassment, stereotyping and bullying occur — are driving away women and people of color, undercutting technology companies’ efforts to increase diversity and costing an estimated $16 billion a year. 

That’s the conclusion of a first-of-its-kind study from the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll that explored the reasons people leave tech companies.

“The study is an important first step in understanding how turnover and workplace culture contribute to the lack of diversity we are seeing in the tech industry,” Dr. Allison Scott, the study’s author and chief research officer at the Kapor Center, told USA TODAY in an interview.

All major tech companies track retention data, but they do not make it public. There’s been an outpouring of first-hand accounts of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, bullying and racial bias on blogs, social media and in lawsuits. These strongly suggest high rates of turnover among the very groups companies are struggling to keep as they try to change the demographics of their mostly white and Asian male staffs.

According to the “Tech Leavers” study, nearly eight in 10 employees who left tech jobs reported experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment, while 85% observed it. And 37% said they left their jobs because of it.

In fact, unfair behavior and treatment was the No. 1 reason given for leaving, and was twice as likely to be cited than being recruited for a better opportunity.

Other findings:

-Women experienced and observed far more unfairness than men.

-Nearly one-quarter of underrepresented men and women of color experienced stereotyping, twice the rate of white and Asian men and women.

-Nearly one-third of underrepresented women of color were passed over for promotion, more than any other group.

-LGBT employees were the most likely to be bullied (20%) and experience public humiliation (24%) and 64% said it contributed to their decision to leave.

-Men from underrepresented groups, such as African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, were most likely to leave due to unfairness (40%).

-Underrepresented women of color were significantly more likely to cite unfairness as a reason for leaving than white and Asian women (36% versus 28%).

-Nearly a quarter of underrepresented men and women experienced stereotyping in their previous job and at almost twice the rate of white and Asian men and women.

-Employees in tech companies were significantly more likely to leave due to unfairness than technical employees in other industries (42% versus 32%).

Ellen Pao, who brought an unsuccessful gender discrimination lawsuit against one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful venture capital firms, triggering a national debate on the treatment of women, says everyone knew this sense of unfairness was prevalent in tech — particularly with regard to women and underrepresented people of color.

“Now we have the data to understand the scale of these issues,” said Pao, now chief diversity and inclusion officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact and a venture partner at Kapor Capital.

The study reinforces earlier findings that the tech industry is like a sieve for underrepresented groups. One study found that women in tech leave their jobs at twice the rate of men. Another found that after about 12 years, about half of women had left their jobs in STEM fields, mostly in computing or engineering. Previous studies mostly focused on the experiences of women in the industry. The Kapor study is one of the first to turn its attention to a nationally representative sample of all groups, including groups that are underrepresented in tech such as women, African Americans and Hispanics.

Diversity experts say the percentage of each demographic group that remains with a company each year could be the most telling data with which to gauge how inclusive a workplace is. Retention rates naturally vary year to year but should not vary greatly across demographic groups, they say. In the study, why underrepresented groups left their jobs “is where we see differences,” Dr. Scott said. “All groups left due to unfairness but for different types of unfairness.”

Former Uber software engineer Susan Fowler, who made explosive allegations of sexism and harassment at the ride-hailing company in a post on her personal blog that led to an internal investigation, said her request to transfer to another team to avoid her harasser was rejected because of retention concerns.

“It turned out that keeping me on the team made my manager look good, and I overheard him boasting to the rest of the team that even though the rest of the teams were losing their women engineers left and right, he still had some on his team,” wrote Fowler who left Uber in December.

So Fowler calculated the retention rate for her department. She says it had slipped from being about a quarter female to 6% in a year.  “Women were transferring out of the organization, and those who couldn’t transfer were quitting or preparing to quit,” she said.

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Source: USA TODAY | Jessica Guynn