Why Do the Big Tech Companies Drive Away Women and Minorities?

There are toxic workplaces and then there are toxic workplaces in the tech industry. Up until now the evidence was heavily anecdotal. There was the female employee who revealed sexual harassment at Uber, followed by the heart-wrenching tragedy of the African-American engineer at Uber who took his own life as the stress became unmanageable. There is the gay employee taking on the Omnicom Group for horrific abuse and the well-known story of Ellen Pao, whose gender discrimination suit made national news.

At last we have some data to support the chorus of diverse voices begging us to pay attention to the working conditions they’ve been forced to endure. The Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll just conducted a study to explore the reasons why people leave tech companies. What they discovered was that the outpouring of first-person stories of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, bullying and racial bias is borne out by the numbers: eight in 10 employees who left tech said they did so due to unfair behavior or treatment.  Eighty-five percent observed such behavior and 37 percent left their jobs because of it.

Women experience and observed far more toxic behavior than men, with women of color being most likely to be passed over for promotion. In addition, LGBT employees endured the most bullying and public humiliation leading to the decision by 64 percent to leave their company.

Given that employee retention problems due to toxic workplaces are costing $16 billion a year, one would think that the tech companies would use their brain power to work harder at a solution. However, Facebook, whom we recently praised for its new policy about gender-diverse legal teams, has been cited in the Wall Street Journal for its hidden biases against female engineers. Perhaps Cheryl Sandberg might want to figure out how to help her company lean in. Right now it’s not getting the job done.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

Illustration credit: Womena/greenlining.org