Big Tech diversity efforts stall as industry endures mass layoffs
Feb 15, 2023

Big Tech diversity efforts stall as industry endures mass layoffs

Firms pledged to improve DEI after George Floyd's murder. Cutting those roles now sends a "chilling" message, a strategist says.

We’ve reported on the mass layoffs in tech that have been happening since last fall. And that has many in the industry worried about what that means for diversity in tech. There are now indications a slowdown in hiring could affect industry efforts for more diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI.

Across all industries, there was a 13% drop in human resources job listings last year, and a 19% drop in listings for DEI roles, according to Textio, a company that helps create job ads. Many tech companies promised to focus on diversifying their employee rosters following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by police and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.

Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams spoke with Christie Lindor, a diversity strategist and CEO of Tessi Consulting, who warns the tech industry in particular should be careful about cutting these roles. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Christie Lindor: We see that about 36% of employees between the ages of 18 and 44 do factor DEI as an important element when they’re looking for new companies. So while we do see the stall, we do see the decrease, we think that organizations that have really impacted or significantly, you know, kind of decreased their DEI programs, we think that they’re going to see that come to a reckoning and in the future, once this economic blip really kind of levels out a bit.

Kimberly Adams: Many of these Big Tech firms were quite public about plans to really diversify their employee roster and improve these DEI initiatives, or EIDA initiatives, lots of different acronyms floating around, following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and those Black Lives Matter protests. What message do these layoffs send to people in and outside of these companies?

Lindor: There’s been a lot of, unfortunately, chilling messages. One, it definitely sends a message that those commitments that were made initially were potentially performative, in a sense that they were not made from a lens of really taking these as core values into their organization. I think that’s the clear narrative that’s being sent. And the layoffs are not just in the DEI programs, they’re across the board, across different functions. But the disproportionate element of the DEI programs and marginalized employees of color, that tells a really unfortunate story that I think, again, and continue to say that, you know, it’s going to be a reckoning in the future once, again, the economic state really kind of levels off a bit.

Adams: For those that remain, what role do these DEI departments and these, you know, diversity initiatives kind of play within the tech industry right now?

Lindor: You know, the the programs that are still remaining and the staff that is remaining, I think that this is a clear example of organizations not really, truly understanding what diversity, equity and inclusion really mean, and when I say what it means, what it means to apply it as a corporate strategy and how to tactically implement it in organizations. And so I think that any program that’s still available, still operational, I think that’s something to think about — how to ensure the programs that are being created, they align to the business strategy, they’re measurable, that there are success metrics that can be tracked and communicated, and also being able to amplify success stories. There’s a lot of not only macro-level success stories that can help across the organization, but also those little stories, the minimal stories, where because of the DEI efforts, a person saw themselves represented, or they had accessibility to tools that they didn’t have before. Being able to really amplify the success stories of programs, as well as having those measurements that align with strategy is important for programs to really lean into moving forward, to really be able to showcase the value. And I think the more that you’ll see organizations and DEI as a whole mature, we’ll see more of those actionable measures that again, align to strategy, help create the story that this is an important discipline, and it’s vital for any company that really wants to succeed in the future.

Adams: How common is this strategy, downsizing diversity initiatives, when there is or is fear of an economic downturn?

Lindor: I think it goes back to priorities. When leaders are really walking the walk in terms of the commitments they make, what that looks like is there may be kind of reductions in the scope of the work, there may be, you know, stretching out the timelines of certain strategies and certain efforts. We don’t see a company saying, you know, a top two or three strategic priority being completely gutted for the sake of saving money, quote-unquote. So again, it shows the priority of that particular effort.

Adams: Over the long run, how do you think it’s going to show up in future innovations, these companies that are choosing to sort of step back from some of those commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion?

Lindor: Two things I think will start to show up. One, I think we’ll continue to see, obviously, artificial intelligence technology. Programming that’s done in AI with unchecked biases does have commercial consequences. We’ve seen that with apps being created, for example, and not being able to pick up consumers of darker skin or things like a person’s name or being able to add pronouns or the accessibility. The second important element is you’ll start to see organizations that are holding to their commitment. They’re honoring their commitments , and they’re benefitting by creating innovative, creative projects and products that the market is not seeing today. And you’ll see those types of organizations continue to win. They’re creating that representation, and they’re understanding needs of not only macro markets, but those niche markets that are sometimes underserved.

Bloomberg has an article with more on this topic. Reporters there identified DEI layoffs at Amazon, Meta, Twitter and Redfin. Some of those who lost their jobs told Bloomberg they expect their duties to go to other colleagues, perhaps without additional pay.

And a 2022 report from McKinsey and Co. surveyed the state of women in the tech industry. That report highlights that women leaders in this sector are 1.5 times more likely to leave a job and go work for another company that is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.

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