Tech Companies Still Don't Embrace Diversity. Can This Generation Change That?

To attract and retain top talent, today's companies need to keep inclusivity top of mind

Why It Matters

The world of tech is famously bad at making its workforce diverse and inclusive. But according to diversity, equity, and inclusion expert Cedric Brown, companies that don't step up their policies and culture run a true risk of being passed over by the next generation of innovators.

As we get ready to dive into True North Waterloo next week, where 2,500 people will come together to explore the future of technology and innovation in Canada, it seems important to open up the conversation with one of the most pressing issues the tech community continues to struggle with: diversity and inclusion.

The current state of diversity and inclusion in Canada’s tech world is, to put it mildly, not great. Stats on diversity in the Canadian tech industry are not easily or readily available, a fact that Ryerson’s tech startup accelerator, DMZ, once labelled “a telling problem in itself.” That silence became even more telling when, in 2017, the CBC asked 31 Canadian tech companies to share their diversity stats — and only two obliged.

Where we’re at

We do have some stats on the Canadian tech scene, but unfortunately, they aren’t especially reassuring. A study carried out by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship as recently as January 2019 found that men remain four times more likely than women to work in tech — and that they earn an average of $7,300 more than their female counterparts. (Among tech workers that hold Bachelor’s degrees, that pay gap grows even larger, with men out-earning women at a shocking $19,570.)

On top of that, certain minorities in Canada continue to be both underrepresented and underpaid in the tech field, with industry participation rates for Black, Filipino, and Indigenous populations across Canada remaining low. Most visible minority groups in tech also endure a significant pay gap, with earnings that average $3,100 lower than the wages of non-visible minorities in tech. (Black tech workers face the most significant pay gap out of all visible minority groups, with salaries an average $16,000 lower than those of non-visible minorities in the tech sector.)

So how do we change inclusion in the world of tech?

There have been multiple approaches that progressive companies have used to increase inclusion and diversity, from staying accountable by using data-driven tracking and reporting to rolling out consistent bias training to switching to employee sponsorship over simple mentorship. But according to Cedric Brown — chief foundation officer at the California-based Kapor Center, which works to make the tech industry both more diverse and inclusivethere’s one promising force out there that’s more likely than all the rest to drive the rate of change in the tech field: young people.

The power of employee choice

As millennials and Gen Z grow up and take over the workforce, Brown explains, they’re expecting more from potential employers, especially in fields where companies are competing for top talent. They expect their offices to truly reflect the rich and diverse societies they live in.

“I’m really encouraged by a set of a younger people who are coming in and thinking intersectionally about multiple identities and how to break down the binary way to think of race and gender and class,” Brown tells Future of Good. “They’re saying, ‘We expect our workplaces to already be set up like this, to already have inclusive practices, to already be pushing for greater good in the world. That’s what we expect. And if you can’t deliver, we’re not working for you.‘”

Because while some companies may simply be paying diversity and inclusion lip service, younger tech employees — those who are being hired today and will be taking over the workforce tomorrow — are informed about inclusivity, and they’re far more demanding.

“I’m really glad that the conversations around tech inclusion are happening in earnest,” Brown says. “We’re in this window of opportunity now where folks have wanted to explore what is possible — what they can do as individuals, what their companies can do better — out of the economic necessity of being able to bring in additional tech talent.”

He continues:

I’m super encouraged by that trend. These younger folks who are taking a stance and saying, ‘You just won’t get the talent if you can’t have a workplace that looks like this.’ And that may be the way that we end up making some of these very needed changes.

There’s never been a better way to change a system than with pressure from those who make it up — and in many ways, it seems like the tech world has reached a tipping point. Ready or not, tech companies that want to remain competitive tomorrow will need to embrace diversity and inclusion today. How’s that for a call to action in Canadian tech?

Want to dive deeper on this topic? Keep an eye out for our coverage of True North Waterloo next week. We’ll be on site bringing you the insights, ideas, and trends shaping tech for good today.