When examining the diversity report for companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google, it is clear that very little progress has been made to increase Hispanic, Black, and female representation. Some point to a pipeline problem, which is the belief that there are not enough minorities and females graduating with degrees in the STEM field. Upon further investigation, the pipeline problem appears to be a myth that is used to conceal the real issues. If the pipeline problem is a myth, what are the reasons why there is a lack of female, Black and Hispanic representation in the STEM fields?
- Societal Norms. From a young age, girls are conditioned to believe the negative stereotypes regarding a girl’s abilities. Research even indicates that these negative stereotypes can have a direct effect on test performance. These negative stereotypes about a women’s abilities can lead to stereotype threat, which is the fear of conforming to the negative stereotypes about your group. Societal expectations and norms can play an important role in a girl's desire to pursue STEM subjects in school. Perceptions of what fields are “female” versus “male” can also impact behaviors toward females in the STEM fields. According to research, women are judged more harshly for being in male-dominated fields. The solution to this issue starts with unconscious bias training to help organizational leaders be more aware of their own prejudices and bias.
- Limited Access. Lack of access to computer classes at an early age can have an impact on who enters into the tech industry. Computing and mathematical jobs are expected to be the fastest-growing of any other occupation by 2022. The state of California is home to the highest amount of tech workers, with 1.5 million, yet only about 65% of high schools in California offer computing classes, with few plans to expand computer education. When looking at the number of students from underrepresented backgrounds taking AP computer science courses in the state of California, Black and Hispanic students make up 60% of California’s student population, yet only 16% of the population taking AP computer science courses. These underrepresented groups are also less likely to have access to and exposure to computer science at home and elsewhere. These students often do not have role models that look like them in the computer science field. Tech companies should investigate ways they can partner with schools to provide mentorship and guidance to these students from diverse backgrounds. This can be an effective way to develop diverse a diverse talent pipeline starting from the ground up.
- Heterogeneous Sourcing. When analyzing where graduates are recruited from, Stanford University, San Jose State University, Purdue University, University of Phoenix and Santa Clara University have the highest number of alumni (respectively) in the tech industry. Recruiters are looking at the same schools for talent, which will produce the same results—a homogenous pool of candidates. To find the coveted unicorn (female, Black or Hispanic), recruiters must expand their horizons. The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and Black and Hispanic national fraternities and sororities are great resources that can help companies widen their pool of prospective candidates.
- Tokenism. A token is defined as “someone who is included in a group to make people believe that the group is trying to be fair and include all types of people when this is not really true.” Lack of representation in an organization can lead to feelings of tokenism. Research indicates that tokenism is positively correlated with turnover intentions in organizations with gender inequity. When you feel like you are “the only” within your organization, it can have detrimental effects on your motivation and morale. Women or minorities who enter into workplaces where others do not look like them often experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. When companies focus solely only getting diverse talent through the door, they may neglect to create an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated. Feelings of being the “only one” along with tokenism can cause diverse talent to leave the organization in search of more inviting environments.
- Unfair Treatment. Not creating an environment where diverse employees feel valued. The pipeline problem does not take into consideration how Black, Hispanic and female employees are treated once they enter into different tech jobs. One 2017 research study found that unfairness and mistreatment was the most cited reason that employees from different backgrounds leave their jobs in tech. The study also indicated that underrepresented men of color were most likely to leave their tech jobs due to unfairness. 85% of those surveyed indicated that they witnessed or observed unfair treatment taking place at a company they have worked for, with women citing that they observed more unfair treatment than men. Once companies hire employees from these underrepresented groups, more must be done to ensure that they feel valued in the organization. Among the many strategies for creating an equitable workplace, implementing inclusive policies and procedures into the organization, ensuring that staff is frequently and properly trained, and ensuring that ERGs and other resources are put into place to allow diverse populations to be represented are some effective ways to mitigate unfair workplace treatment.