New Report by UMass Amherst Center for Employment Equity Examines Silicon Valley Workforce Diversity

Study of 177 largest public and private tech firms finds a current lack of diversity, but suggests that some companies have found solutions
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

AMHERST, Mass. – New research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity (CEE) finds that while white and Asian men dominate the workforces of the largest Silicon Valley tech firms, there are companies among their ranks that demonstrate achieving diversity in their workforces is currently possible.

In the report “Is Silicon Valley Tech Diversity Possible Now?” co-authors Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Joo-Hee Han examined data reported to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016 from a sample of the largest tech firms in the San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley area, including the largest publicly traded and privately held companies in the region. Focusing on executive, managerial and professional occupations, they document for the first time considerable variability in the levels of employment diversity across 177 firms, finding that some firms have already figured out how to produce diverse workforces.

“These firms already know how to develop innovative products, compete in dynamic global markets, hire in competitive labor markets and are rapidly transforming our world,” they write in the report. “It’s difficult to come up with a plausible reason why many cannot manage diversity. In this report we show that some can, so then the question becomes why some aren’t.”

Han, a UMass Amherst doctoral student and CEE research assistant, and Tomaskovic-Devey, professor of sociology at UMass Amherst and CEE founding director, found that about 70 percent of total managerial and tech professionals in the large Silicon Valley Tech firms are men. Executives—the people with power to change firm policy and make capital investment decisions—are even more likely to be men (79 percent). White men are the most common group, holding 38.7 percent of professional jobs, 46.5 percent of management positions and 58.7 percent of executive jobs.

And although men tend to be employed at higher rates than women, in 12 firms studied women are actually a majority of employees. White women are 13.8 percent of professionals, but more common among managers (18.2 percent) and to a lesser extent among executives (14.6 percent). White women are actually slightly more common among managers than Asian men, and almost as large a component of the executive ranks. The authors believe that this pattern suggests white women have promotion or lateral hiring advantages over Asian men in access to authority-invested jobs.

“The higher we go in these firms the more numerous men tend to be,” the authors write. “At the same time, for each distribution of employee groups across this population of Silicon Valley Tech firms, there are firms that are more than 50 percent women, even among executives. Conversely, there are firms in which all executives are men, and many where more than 90 percent of managers and professionals are men. Some firms are clearly better and others worse at hiring and retaining women.”

Asian employees are by far the second largest demographic within these Silicon Valley companies, but, while Asian men have similar representation in the core technical jobs as white men, they become increasingly scarce in managerial and executive jobs. There are four firms with no Asian men in managerial positions, and 12 firms with no Asian male executives. On the other hand, Asian men comprise more than 50 percent of these jobs in some firms.

Similar to Asian men, the proportion of Asian women is the largest in the professional ranks, but decreases in management and is quite low among executives. Like white women, there are firms with no Asian women in the managerial (seven firms) and executive (66 firms) ranks. In 21 firms, Asian women comprise more than 20 percent of professionals. In 22 firms, Asian women comprise 15 percent or more of managers, but in only three firms are Asian women 15 percent or more of executives.

Beyond Asian men and women, the report indicates that further racial diversity lags far behind in most of these tech companies:

  • On average, black men make up less than 1.5 percent of employees in all three job levels studied. While black men are more than 3 percent of executives in sixteen firms, and all but seven firms have at least one black male employee, 71 percent have none at the executive ranks.
  • In all occupational ranks, the median proportion of Latinos is less than 3 percent and firms with no Latino employees in executive jobs are quite common.
  • Black women and Latinas are rare in all professional, management and executive jobs. There are 10 firms (5.7 percent) with no black women at all, and the overall median proportion of black women is close to zero in all firms.
  • Average Latina representation is slightly higher than Black women, yet Latina representation is still quite low. There are two firms with no Latina employees.

While executive and managerial composition was not a robust predictor of tech workforce diversity, the researchers did see that firms with a relatively larger representation of white female managers indicate higher employment of minority women, with the exception of Asian women. More white male executives were associated with fewer Asian professional workers.

“Managerial composition matters for who gets tech jobs,” the authors write. “More white men in executive jobs are associated with the employment of fewer Asian men and Asian women in professional jobs. Conversely, more white women in management jobs are associated with the employment of more professional black women and Latinas.”

“Leadership diversity, at least if it is at very low levels, is not sufficient,” they conclude. “Simple demographic integration is not enough. It may be the case that a critical mass of managers from underrepresented groups is necessary before any group develops an influential voice to promote further gains in diversity. More generally, minority or female management cannot carry this responsibility alone. If you want to reduce bias in tech workplaces you have to hire and retain more women and minorities. It’s as simple as that.”

The full report, and more information about the Center for Employment Equity, including access to EEOC data and reports, can be found here.