Tech companies struggle to recruit more minorities

Consulting giant McKinsey has argued that diversity is not only socially beneficial, it’s good business. His most recent analysis found that companies in the top quartile of ethnic diversity on executive teams were 36 percent more likely to have profitability above their national industry median than companies in the fourth quartile. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Chicago tech executives say diverse teams provide insight and rigorous discussion. Diversity can also help avoid embarrassing missteps, like when a 2019 government study found that facial recognition algorithms were falsely identifying African American and Asian American faces. Of course, minority people are well aware of their difference and are reluctant to express a different opinion, says Mike Gamson, CEO of Relativity. “Creating a culture so that you can extract that difference of opinion is beneficial,” he says.

But it can be hard to convince colleagues to go the extra mile to hire a minority candidate who has less experience or doesn’t score as well on a technical exam as a white candidate, says Smith, who is director of production operations. in the middle. “Why is this person’s ethnicity or race valuable to the team?” he says. “That can be a hard sell for a team of engineers who are focused on ones and zeros.”

Silicon Valley giants and spin-off startups that make founders millionaires are notorious for their lack of diversity. This group of tech geeks is disproportionately white and Asian-American and, as in other fields, they have historically hired people like them: people in their social networks, from top programs at Stanford and MIT.

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“The word on the street is that you have to know someone to get those positions,” says Larry Bailey, an IT analyst at Potbelly Chicago who is African American. “You have to meet someone who vouches for you from the inside.”

The tech field has been talking about diversity for 20 years, and nothing has changed, says Carlton Gates, a Chicago-based recruiter for Yum Brands who has worked at Oracle and Google and is African American. Engineering teams, he says, are tribal. Indian engineering teams don’t hire Chinese engineers, and Chinese engineers don’t hire Indians, and neither group hires African-Americans or Latinos, he says.

“When I was at Google, I wanted to identify biases in hiring women. Every time a competent woman was at the interview stage, an engineer who didn’t want women on the team would say, ‘You code too slow,’” Gates recalls. “That’s code for, ‘Let’s just leave her.’ These kinds of things are also used against people of color. She eliminates them in the interview process.” A Google spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Gates points out that there are plenty of black and brown people in IT ops as desk techs, but they hit a snag getting the higher-paying jobs in application tech like front-end developer and software engineer.

If minority tech workers are locked into Silicon Valley, they enjoy better prospects at public companies, as well as small and medium-sized tech companies in the area. “Companies like AT&T and Comcast take this more seriously than big tech,” says Gates. “They end up hiring a more diverse workforce.”

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United Airlines employs about 1,500 of its 95,000-strong workforce in technology jobs, including developers who design and update the websites and mobile apps used by consumers, as well as pilots, flight attendants and gate agents. The operator is one of 36 area companies working with P33 to find ways to diversify their tech talent.

Linda Jojo, executive vice president of technology and chief digital officer, says the carrier’s tech minority representation is slightly better than the finding of a 2018 National Science Foundation study that pegged the national science and engineering workforce at a 30 percent women, 21 percent Asian-American, 6 percent Hispanic and 5 percent black. Although we’re a little higher, Jojo says, “we’re not quite there yet.”