People of Color, Women, LGBTQ Tech Employees Cite Unfairness, Bias, & Bullying in Decisions to Leave their Jobs

Eric Wingerter

First-of-its-Kind Tech Leavers Study Finds that Workplace Culture Drives Turnover; Unfairness Costs Tech $16B annually

(OAKLAND, CA) –More than a third of tech workers surveyed have left their job due in part to unfairness in the workplace, and experiences differ dramatically for women, underrepresented people of color, and LGBTQ employees, according to a groundbreaking new study from the Kapor Center for Social Impact. The Tech Leavers Survey, conducted between December 19, 2016 and January 19, 2017, shows that each year turnover due to unfairness, costs the industry more than $16 billion. This study represents the first nationwide study of why people leave tech jobs.

The survey itself was conducted by the Harris Poll, sponsored in large part by a grant from the Ford Foundation. Download the full report at www.KaporCenter.org/Tech-Leavers

“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.”

Key findings of the Tech Leavers Study include:

  • 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.
  • 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.

“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..”

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

  • 63% of employees would have stayed if their company took steps to create a more positive and respectful environment;
  • When comprehensive diversity policies and practices are in place, negative workplace experiences are lower, and people are less likely to leave “due to unfairness”;
  • Having a comprehensive D&I strategy in place has a much greater impact than executing single efforts or initiatives. Unconscious bias or diversity trainings on their own do not reduce likelihood of leaving due to unfairness.

Report authors identified three recommendations to address workplace unfairness:

  1. 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 e ectiveness of strategies, and allows for course-correct when needed.
  2. 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 ndings, addressing areas of concern
  3. 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.

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.

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Contact: Eric Wingerter (202) 243-9995, eric@kaporcenter.org