Despite increasing efforts, tech companies with major Austin operations are still struggling to recruit women, African-American and Hispanic workers.

April 14th, 2017

For three years, Dell Inc. has issued statistics on the number of women and racial minorities the company employs as part of its annual “Legacy of Good” report. Like a lot of tech companies, these numbers show that Dell’s workforce is overwhelmingly white and male.

Since 2013, 68 percent of the people employed by Dell are men. Three of every four senior managers are men, which hasn’t changed in three years.

Dell also discloses the percentage of minorities it employs — 32 percent — but that data is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from because it includes people of Asian descent, who are typically represented in higher numbers at tech companies.

Although Dell expressed a commitment to diverse hiring as far back as 2004, earlier than most tech companies, the Round Rock-based PC maker and IT solutions company hasn’t yet shown significant progress in its workforce numbers.

Dell is far from alone in this challenge.

The American- Statesman sought to attain workforce diversity reports of every tech company that employs over 1,000 people in Austin. Of the 15 companies contacted, 10 disclosed demographic data.

Those reports showed:

  • Only Expedia, which owns Austin-based HomeAway, has a majority-female workforce. Just over half of its workers around the globe are women. And among the company’s technical jobs, Expedia said women make up 24 percent of those jobs. Expedia declined to provide specific data on its HomeAway workforce.
  • All other tech companies surveyed report that women make up roughly a third or less of their workforce. National Instruments, with 2,500 Austin workers, reports the fewest number of women on its payroll; about one of ever four workers there is a woman.
  • Only three companies separate Asians from the other minority groups in their reports, allowing for a better understanding of how many Hispanics and African-Americans are employed. Those companies are AppleIntel and Accenture. They disclosed having hired significantly fewer Hispanics and African-Americans, and substantially more workers of Asian descent, than are represented in the overall U.S. labor force.
  • Some companies are making modest gains toward a more diverse workforce. Intel, Accenture, and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise have increased the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities since this data was first reported. But even their hiring lags behind the overall U.S. labor force.

Publication of these findings is intended to make tech companies more accountable, allowing for year-to-year comparisons on hiring, retention and promotion of women and underrepresented minority groups.

The tech industry has been scrutinized by government agencies for its hiring practices. In January, the federal Department of Labor sued Google to force the release of salary data, and in a court hearing this month the department reportedly accused Google of gender-based pay disparities. Allegations of sexual harassment and sexism roiled ride-hailing company Uber a few months ago.

Meanwhile, diversity workforce data that many tech firms have started publishing show scant progress in diverse hiring.

‘More diverse ideas’

Public pressure mounted for tech companies to release diversity data about four years ago when an engineer who worked for Pinterest wrote about the lack of data on women working in technology.

Soon after, Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter began releasing their diversity workforce data, which generated unfavorable headlines like “Apple’s executive ranks still overwhelmingly white and male” and “Google’s new diversity stats only slightly less embarrassing.

In Austin, several prominent tech companies have been releasing this sort of data for years, but typically included the statistics inside annual reports that also disclosed progress toward environmental efforts and other corporate initiatives.

Dell first broke out the number of women and minorities it employs, as well as statistics about executive positions, in a 2010 corporate social responsibility report. Advanced Micro Devices, a chip company with 1,500 Austin employees, first posted workforce diversity in 2011. And Intel started releasing diversity data in 2000. But most of Austin’s other large tech employers only recently began doing so.

Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFTamara Fields, second from right, and managing director at Accenture, speaks at The Culture of Tech: How Women are Changing the Rulesat the Texas Conference for Women in 2016.

Accenture, which provides IT consulting and outsourcing, issued its first report in 2015, said Tamara Fields, managing director for Accenture Federal Services in Austin. Its most recent report showed that 63.8 percent of Accenture’s workforce is made up of men, and that African-Americans made up 7.5 percent of the workforce and Hispanics 7.3 percent.

There are signs that some tech companies remain hesitant in revealing their progress toward a more diverse workforce. IBMApplied MaterialsFlexSamsung and NXP Semiconductors, each with substantial operations in Austin, declined to provide recent-year data to the American-Statesman.

The data provided to the newspaper, however, clearly shows a pattern of hiring whites and people of Asian descent over African-Americans and Hispanics, and that tech firms hire more men than women.

READ: How Austin groups are working to bring diverse entrepreneurs into a male-dominated tech industry

In 2015, the U.S. labor force was 51.7 percent female, and the country’s two biggest racial minority groups are Hispanics, who make up 16.6 percent of the labor force, and African-Americans, who comprise 12.3 percent of the labor force. Workers of Asian descent, which make up about 5.8 percent of the labor force, are typically represented in higher numbers at tech companies. For instance, Apple, which employs 6,000 in Austin, reports that 19 percent of its workforce is Asian.

Advocates for diversity say it’s a problem that tech companies are out of sync with the wider labor force. Tech is one of the fastest-growing areas of the U.S. economy, and technology jobs tend to offer higher pay and better benefits. A federal report on tech diversity that came out last year also concluded that tech jobs are more resilient to economic downturns. Myriad academic studies have also concluded that diversity is good for business, according to the Anita Borg Institute, which showed how companies that are more diverse tend to produce better financial results.

“There is a real benefit to having a diverse workforce and it has to do with creativity,” said Harlan Beverly, an assistant director at Texas Venture Labs at the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas. “If you have people with diverse backgrounds and diverse points of view that are working on a challenging problem, you will get more diverse and creative ideas.”

Is it the pipeline?

Austin tech companies acknowledge they have a diversity challenge. For years, they have made attempts to address it, doing things like creating women-only employee resource groups and funding STEM programs for young girls. 

Still, most of the Austin tech employers that release diversity data have made little progress toward changing the makeup of their workforce.

“It’s going to take years. It’s a journey, not a sprint,” said Karen Quintos, who works for Dell as chief customer officer. “It really does come down to leadership accountability, changing behaviors and culture and having an external brand that women and people of color want to work for.”

READ: Why Dell has endorsed a diversity program aimed at men

Tech companies frequently defend their status on diversity by saying there’s long been an insufficient number of women and minorities with technology degrees and skills.

For instance, Quintos said one of Dell’s “biggest challenges” when it comes to hiring more women is the lack of female STEM graduates. “While women are graduating at a higher rate in college and in master’s (programs), the enrollment in STEM programs is down. The number of women who are graduating with computer science degrees is down.”

Ralph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFNational Instruments held it's 20th annual NI Week on  August 7, 2014 at the Austin Convention Center.

Shelley Gretlein, National Instruments vice president of marketing, also said the tech pipeline from engineering schools is already skewed.

“You’ve got a pipeline of talent, and that’s the pipeline you work with.” She noted that, when recruiting, National Instruments reaches out to college groups like the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers.

That argument is supported in part by National Science Foundation data, which shows the percentage of women obtaining bachelor’s degrees in computer science has fallen from 25 percent in 2004 to 18 percent in 2014. The percentage of women graduating with engineering degrees dipped slightly from 20.5 percent in 2004 to 19.8 percent in 2014.

However, in looking at how many Hispanics and African-Americans are graduating with these degrees, the conclusions are less clear. The National Science Foundation says there were significantly more Hispanics graduating with degrees in engineering and computer science in 2014 than in 2004. And yet, fewer African-Americans graduated with these same degrees over the same time period. A USA Today analysis in 2014 found that African-American and Hispanic computer science and engineering students were graduating at twice the rate that leading tech companies hire them.

Ricardo B. Brazziell/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMANSixteen-year-old Beatriz Garza dissembles a computer during the First Bytes summer Computer Science camp at the University of Texas on Monday, June 18, 2012.

Some diversity advocates say that blaming the pipeline is just an excuse for not making more progress.

“It’s a faulty argument,” said Deldelp Medina, director of Code2040’s Enterpreneur in Residence program. “The amount of people graduating with a CS degree that are black or Latino and the amount of people being hired by tech companies is not equal.”

She said tech companies have a tendency to hire people from their friend or social network, or recruit from the same highly-ranked engineering schools.

READ: Reshaping the tech pipeline

Beverly, the University of Texas professor, said he’s personally tried to hire women to executive-level positions at tech firms he’s founded. It was challenging — but not impossible — to find a woman who had both the executive-level experience and industry knowledge, he said.

“It’s just a little bit harder to find, especially in tech, female and racially-diverse candidates that are qualified,” Beverly said. “It’s not that they don’t exist, it’s that they are harder to find because they are more rare.”

What works

There are also deeper, systemic issues at play that a single unconscious bias training workshop or an employee resource group can’t fix.

A cover story in the April issue of The Atlantic with the headline “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” purports that the tech industry’s diversity problems stem from from the notion that tech is a “meritocracy,” meaning that people are hired and rewarded based on their talent. For instance, it’s common for software engineers to have their skills tested during an interview.

On paper, this sounds like a great system, because it is all about rewarding people based on skill level and hard work regardless of gender or race.

However, diversity advocates contend that the practice is flawed, because opinions about who is best for a job can be skewed by one’s own biases. The Atlantic points to a 2010 study that claims that in a skills-focused work culture, managers show a greater bias in favor of men over equally-performing women.

So what would improve tech firm diversity? Experts say that having specific, measurable goals for diverse hiring is better than simply publishing diversity statistics or pledging commitment to diversity.

AFP/Getty ImagesA logo of US chipmaker Intel is on display at the Digital Business fair CEBIT in Hanover, central Germany, on March 15, 2016.

Accenture has set a goal of having women make up 40 percent of its workforce by 2020. In October 2016, the company launched a program that rewards employees for “successfully” referring women, minorities, veterans and persons with disabilities as candidates for jobs in the United States.

The company said in the first four months of this program its diverse hires increased 20 percent.

Intel, which has shown in its commitment on many fronts, has announced a goal of having its workforce reflect the available talent in the U.S. technology workforce by 2020. Its CEO pledged to spend $300 million on diversity initiatives. Besides setting specific hiring goals and publicizing them, Intel addressed retention and culture issues by creating a confidential phone line it calls the “WarmLine” that employees can use to discuss concerns about their workplace or a stalled career.

When it comes to retaining women, diversity advocates say family friendly policies are key. Fields said that as Accenture sought to retain more women in the company, it boosted its parental leave benefits, allowing up to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave for women.

Accenture spokesman Joe Dickie said since increasing parental leave time in March 2015, Accenture has seen a nearly 40 percent reduction in mothers leaving their jobs after adding a child to the family.

Beverly said it’s important to have internal diversity hiring goals. “If you don’t measure it, people will ignore what is just fluff and words.”

This article was updated on Monday to reflect that Accenture’s goal is to have women make up 40 percent of its workforce by 2020. The article initially had published the incorrect year. The Statesman regrets the error. 


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