Almost one year ago, as it grappled with years of stagnant workforce diversity numbers, Dell Technologies decided to shake things up.
And it started at the top.
The Round Rock-based tech giant — which is Central Texas’ largest private employer — hired its first ever chief diversity and inclusion officer. The company selected Brian Reaves, who previously led inclusion efforts at German software company SAP, saying the hire would “advance Dell’s culture of inclusion.”
Then the company got to work. It joined multiple partnerships aimed at increasing the number of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. It also has begun working with historically black colleges and universities to improve training in the tech pipeline.
“I view this topic and what we’re doing as important to the future business success of the company as anything we’ll do technologically,” Reaves said in an interview with the American-Statesman. “It’s not something that’s nice to do. It’s really something one must do.”
Companies are beginning to realize that better workforce diversity can help the bottom line, said Leonard Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement at the University of Texas.
“Diversity being good for business has been proven over and over,” Moore said.
In the past year, the technology industry has continued to face criticism for the number of women and racial minorities in its workforce, as those totals remain significantly lower than in the overall U.S. workforce.
Dell is among a number of companies that have hired executives to focus on increasing the number of women and people of color on their staffs.
But an analysis by the American-Statesman shows that significant change remains slow within the industry. The analysis, which reviewed the latest data from Austin’s largest tech companies, found that there has not been significant change in the workforce numbers since 2015.
Of the 15 companies contacted for this report — all with 1,000 or more employees in the Austin metro area — 11 agreed to disclose demographic data about their workforces. IBM, Applied Materials, Oracle and Charter Communications — each with substantial operations in Austin — declined to provide the data.
The data was for the companies’ total workforces, and did not provide a separate breakdown of their Austin operations.
Expedia, which owns Austin-based HomeAway, continued to be the only majority-female workforce at 52 percent. The rest of the companies remained at roughly 65 percent to 70 percent male.
“It really comes down to a belief that this is important,” Tina Weyand, HomeAway’s chief product officer, said of the company’s focus on hiring a diverse workforce.
Samsung, which was not included in the American-Statesman’s previous report, had the second-highest percentage of women in its global workforce at 45 percent.
Only two of the companies — National Instruments and Intel — increased the percentage of women in their global workforce in the past year. Accenture, which only published data for its U.S. workforce, also slightly increased its percentage.
Other companies, such as AT&T, Advanced Micro Devices and and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, have seen a drop in the number of women employees since the American-Statesman’s last review.
Dell’s female workforce technically declined when compared to the American-Statesman’s previous report, but that was due to its 2016 merger with data storage firm EMC Corp. When comparing only Dell’s past two years — a more apples-to-apples comparison — the percentage of female workers increased at the company.
As for the racial and ethnic makeup of their workforce, five of the tech companies contacted by the American-Statesman — AT&T, Apple, Accenture, Intel and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise — broke down those figures.
Only AT&T matched the overall U.S. labor workforce with 15.3 percent Hispanic employees and 18.4 percent African-American employees. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise reported the lowest numbers of employees in those groups, with Hispanic employees at 5.6 percent and African-Americans at 5.2 percent.
‘A budget priority’
Although women make up about 48 percent of the entire U.S. workforce, they comprise about 35 percent of the workforce within the tech industry, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The same study found that 68.5 percent of tech employees were white, 8 percent were Hispanic and 7.4 percent were black. Asian Americans tend to be represented in higher numbers in the tech sector at 14 percent of employees, compared with 5.8 percent in the overall private sector.
Workers who leave their tech jobs most often cite “unfairness or mistreatment,” according to a 2017 study by Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. adults who left a tech job in the past three years. The survey found that men and women of color said they experienced stereotyping at twice the rate of white and Asian men and women and 30 percent of women of color were passed over for a promotion.
In the past few years, social movements such as #MeToo have pushed women and racial minority groups to call for change. Female employees at major tech firms such as Uber and Google have filed sexual harassment lawsuits, which, in some cases, has led to settlements and an overhaul of internal policies.
A report this year by business consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that companies with the highest gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies with lower gender diversity.
Companies “have to make it a budget priority,” said Moore, the UT diversity and community engagement expert. “You need someone that wakes up in the morning and looks at these things every day — that it’s not just an add-on to their responsibilities.”
Some companies have been slower to adopt such practices. Advanced Micro Devices, the California-based computer chipmaker that runs most of its operations out of Austin, has not created a position that focuses on workplace diversity, instead choosing to spread those responsibilities out among various staff members who have other roles. And, unlike other companies its size, AMD doesn’t report workforce data related to racial and ethnic diversity.
In 2017, women made up 24 percent of the company’s workforce — the lowest percentage of any company tracked by the American-Statesman and 5 percent lower than when the newspaper published the same data in April 2017.
“There’s recognition that progress needs to take place,” AMD spokeswoman Sarah Youngbauer said.
Meanwhile, some tech companies are moving the needle.
For the first time in its past three company-wide workforce reports, Dell’s female employee count increased, rising by 1 percentage point year-over-year to 29 percent. The number of people of color in Dell’s U.S. workforce increased by 2 percentage points to 29 percent, according to the company.
Since Reaves became head of diversity and inclusion at Dell a year ago, he’s involved the company in several initiatives, such as Northeastern University’s “ALIGN” program aimed at improving the pipeline of minority employees in tech by helping them obtain a master’s degree in computer science.
Dell is also partnering with historically black colleges and universities to create updated curricula that more closely align with demand in the tech sector. And like many companies, Dell has long had resource groups to connect its workers around gender, race and sexual identity. This month, employees in Dell’s “Pride” resource group for LGBTQ employees joined together to march in Austin’s annual Pride Parade.
Other Austin tech firms have also started initiatives aimed at improving racial and gender diversity.
Expedia-owned HomeAway created affinity groups for minorities, anti-bias training for all employees and mentorship programs. It’s also implemented technology to remove potentially biased language from job descriptions.
Reaves said the industry has begun to realize it will be at a competitive disadvantage if it does not become more diverse.
“Our customers care about it deeply,” he said.
‘Can’t rely on others’
Some within the industry say companies need to also put more emphasis on their recruiting tactics.
Workplaces continue to overvalue students from top-tier universities, many of which don’t have a diverse pool of graduates, said Sarah Kettles, a researcher at Austin-based insurance search engine the Zebra. If companies looked more at talent in community colleges and other nontraditional recruiting, she said, diversity would improve.
But change must also come from the bottom up, Kettles said.
Throughout her career, including employment at high-profile companies such as Facebook and Airbnb, Kettles established workplace groups for women that amassed thousands of members.
Those efforts led to increased employee resources and an overall more inclusive workplace, she said.
It’s a process that can be repeated anywhere, Kettles said.
“You can’t rely on others at the top to always be the ones to do something when they have a business to run,” she said. “Some of the most successful diversity and inclusion projects in the workplace are run by regular staff.
“It’s possible to do this.”
An occasional series exploring issues of diversity and inclusion in the Austin technology sector.
See more stories at www.512tech.com/tech-diversity
Top photo: Dell Technologies employees prepare to march in the Austin Pride Parade on August 11, 2018. (Erika Rich for the Austin American-Statesman)