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Study: Women, People of Color, LGBTQ Face Hostile Workplace in Tech



Photo credit: Death to Stock Photography

According to a new study, more than a third of tech workers surveyed have left their job due in part to unfairness in the workplace with dramatically differing experiences for women, underrepresented people of color, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees. It is estimated that turnover due to unfairness cost the tech industry over $16 billion annually.

The Tech Leavers Survey from the Kapor Center for Social Impact is the first nationwide study of why people leave tech jobs. Conducted by the Harris Poll between December 19, 2016 and January 19, 2017, the study sample included 2,006 U.S. residents, ages 18+, who have left a job in a technology-related industry or left a technology function within the last three years. The sample included a total of 142 individuals (7%) who identified as LGBTQ. — 67% White or Asian and 32% Black, Latinx, or Native American/Alaskan Native. The survey sponsored in large part by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

“Tech companies spend millions of dollars finding, recruiting and onboarding top-level talent, but the data show they must focus real attention on retaining the talent they’ve got.” said Dr. Allison Scott, Chief Research Officer at the Kapor Center for Social Impact and lead author of the Tech Leavers Study. “Unfair, non-inclusive and subtly-toxic cultures drive people out, and the trends are particularly pronounced for women, LGBTQ employees, and underrepresented people of color.”


Unfairness Drives Turnover
Unfairness or mistreatment within the work environment was the most frequently cited reason for leaving, with 37% of the sample indicating that unfair treatment was a major factor in their decision to leave their company.

Experiences Differ Dramatically Across Groups
Nearly a quarter of underrepresented men and women of color experienced stereotyping, twice the rate of White and Asian men and women, and almost one-third of underrepresented women of color were passed over for promotion–more than any other group. LBGTQ employees were most likely to be bullied (20%) and experience public humiliation or embarrassment (24%). Notably, employees within tech companies experienced significantly more unfairness than employees in non-tech companies.

Unfairness Costs Billions Each Year
In addition to the $16B annual cost to unfairness in tech workplaces, there are also reputational costs. More than a third of former employees said their experiences would make them less likely to refer others to seek a job at their former employer, and another quarter said they would be less likely to recommend others to buy or use products or services from their former employer.

While 81% of LGBTQ-identified employees experienced some form of unfairness in their previous workplace, roughly the same amount of experiences as their non-LGBTQ employees, LGBTQ employees had the highest rates of public humiliation and bullying of any group of employees. LGBTQ employees were much more likely to experience bullying (20%) and public humiliation (24%) than their non-LGBTQ colleagues (13% and 13%).

Bullying and public humiliation were directly related to turnover for LGBTQ employees, with 64% of LGBTQ employees who were bullied and 62% of LGBTQ employees who were publicly humiliated saying the experience contributed to their decision to leave. Bullying was also strongly related to length of employment; the more bullying experienced, the shorter the length of time that employees remained at their previous company.

“I was treated as an other, excluded, and undervalued in my office. I was ignored, and it was made apparent that I was a ‘diversity hire.’ I was told I was ‘too sensitive,’” commented an anonymous black female developer. “I was told that other black and lesbian folks in the office didn’t feel as I did, after mentioning homophobic and racist jokes being spewed in work-only chat channels.”

A white trans engineer commented, “I was grossly underpaid, and my experiences of marginalization as a minority was dismissed by my manager, whose general disrespect and maltreatment of me caused high levels of stress and job dissatisfaction.”

“These are self-inflicted wounds,” said Freada Kapor Klein, Co-Chair at the Kapor Center for Social Impact and co-author of the report. “We’ve all read the anecdotes about tech engineers leaving their company with scathing descriptions of disrespectful work environments. Now we’ve got the data to back it up. While it’s worse than we expected, there are specific actionable steps companies can take to decrease unfairness and increase retention of diverse talent..”

The good news is that the study shows that tech workplaces can take proactive steps to retain talent, particularly those most likely to leave.


Implement Comprehensive D&I Strategies
Develop and implement a diversity and inclusion strategy that starts with unequivocal leadership from the CEO and executive team, is comprehensive, and implements multiple initiatives, measures the effectiveness of strategies, and allows for course-correct when needed.

Create Inclusive Cultures
Identify a set of core values, develop a code of conduct, and strive to create and continuously evaluate and improve the culture. Conduct employee surveys at regular intervals, examine data by each demographic group, provide transparency about culture issues and act upon the endings, addressing areas of concern.

Develop Effective and Fair Management Processes
Audit performance management and compensation practices for potential biases and implement management training and bias-mitigating strategies (including people operations technology tools) in all stages of the employment lifecycle.

Chase is the founder and Creative Director of, former host and Executive Producer of OutCast Austin, an award-winning LGBT weekly radio program on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin. In 2011, he was named the Critics Pick for 'Most Gaybiquitous' in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin. In 2012, CultureMap Austin named him one of Austin's Top LGBT bloggers and he received the AGLCC's Chamber Award for Social Media Diva.

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october 2021