The 2017 Tech Leavers Study

What would you do if your colleagues continually shared offensive and stereotypical racial jokes? How would you respond if the same managers who continually made sexist comments also unfairly critiqued your work contributions, while you watched others being fast-tracked for promotions?  Or if your co-workers questioned your legal status to work,your English skills, or your ability to do your job?

While any one of these experiences alone might not cause an employee to leave a company, we wanted to learn more about how tech workplace culture and the cumulative experiences and microaggressions might affect employee turnover. And more specifically, we wanted to know whether tech workplace culture contributes to tech’s overall dismal diversity numbers by driving underrepresented employees out of the door. To date, there have been no representative studies of tech workplace cultures or what experiences drive employees out of the door.

The Tech Leavers Study is a first-of-its-kind national study examining why people voluntarily left their jobs in tech. The Kapor Center and Harris Poll surveyed a representative sample of more than 2,000 U.S. adults who have left a job in a technology-related industry or function within the last three years.

What did we learn?

Workplace culture drives turnover, significantly affecting the retention of underrepresented groups, and costing the industry more than $16 billion each year.

“The culture was toxic. The CEO clearly lacked respect for women. Inappropriate remarks were made about women interviewing for roles in the case that the founder found them attractive. Inappropriate / sexual remarks about women were made in front of his female employees during off sites. (There was) tons of micro-management and lack of trust in the abilities of the women who worked for his company. After I left, all of the other women quit too. It was not a female-friendly company.”
Hispanic, Female, Engineer

While employees across all backgrounds chose to leave their jobs for a variety of reasons, a significant number also cited workplace culture as a driving force behind their decision.

Key findings:
  • Nearly 40% of employees surveyed indicated that unfairness or mistreatment played a major role in their decision to leave their company, and underrepresented men were most likely to leave due to unfairness.
  • 1 in 10 women experienced unwanted sexual attention, while LGBT employees were most likely to be bullied and/or experience public humiliation.
  • 78% of employees reported experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment; Women from all backgrounds experienced/observed significantly more unfairness than men and unfairness was more pronounced in tech companies than non-tech companies.
  • Underrepresented men and women of color experienced stereotyping at twice the rate of White and Asian men and women; 30% of underrepresented women of color were passed over for promotion.
  • Experiencing and observing unfairness was a significant predictor of leaving due to unfairness, and the more bullying experienced, the shorter the length of time that employees remained at their previous company.
But there is also a silver lining in the data. Findings show that tech companies can take proactive steps to improve workplace culture and retain talent.
  • Nearly two-thirds of tech leavers indicate that they would have stayed if their employer fixed its culture.
  • Having a diversity and inclusion strategy was associated with fewer reports of unfairness, significantly lower sexual harassment, bullying and stereotyping, and lower rates of leaving due to unfairness.
  • Having a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy in place had a much greater impact than having individual initiatives (e.g., unconscious bias training).
Bottom line: Unfairness

Unfairness in the form of everyday behavior (stereotyping, harassment, microaggressions, etc.) is a very real and damaging part of the tech work environment, specifically affecting underrepresented groups, driving turnover, and affecting companies in financial and reputational costs. By focusing on improving workplace culture, we can work to remove the factors that cause valuable employees to leave, and improve the diversity and inclusion of tech workplaces for all employees.

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“Several bright individuals were passed over for salary raises and promotions due to them not adhering to the jock culture. Also, gross generalizations were made of groups of people. I was offended by the liberal use of stereotypes and the insistence on making a “welcoming culture” that truly focused on only improving work life for a single demographic.”
Black, Male, Position Undisclosed

Tech Leavers Fact Sheets

Women in Tech

Women left their jobs to pursue better opportunities and to leave unfair environments, with differences existing by race.
  • The top two reasons why women overall left tech occupations were: to seek a better opportunity (33%) and to leave unfair environments (32%).
  • Unfairness, however, was the top reason for leaving for women of color (36%), while White/Asian women were less likely to leave for this reason (28%).
  • 27% of women left due to dissatisfaction with their work environment, and women were more likely to leave for this reason than men (25%). Women overall were less likely to be recruited away (18%) than men (23%), although women of color were more likely to be recruited away than White/Asian women
Table 1. Why did they leave? Push vs. Pull Factors
All Women of Color White/Asian Women Women Men
Actively Seeking Better Opportunity 35% 39% 30% 33% 36%
Left Due to Unfairness 37% 36% 28% 31% 40%
Not Satisfied with Work Environment 25% 23% 29% 27% 25%
Recruited Away 22% 21% 16% 18% 23%
Not Satisfied with Job Duties 19% 22% 20% 21% 18%
Note: All questions were separate and independent questions, thus categories do not total to 100%
“There was a culture of harassment, crude behavior towards women, and sexual harassment (by the CTO). The boys club would often be sitting in the CEO’s office drinking whiskey and wouldn’t invite any females. Often my whole team was in there except me. There were so many instances of these comments and this behavior that I became desensitized to it. It made me feel not valued, excluded, with no opportunities for advancement.”
White, Female, Engineer
Women reported a range of experiences from being passed over for promotions to stereotyping and harassment. Women of color often had different experiences than White and Asian women.
Figure 1. Experiences by Race and Gender

Figure 1. Experiences by Race and Gender

  • Women had significantly more experiences with unfair treatment than men (p<.00).
  • 1 in 10 women reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention; 55% of them said this experience influenced their decision to leave.
  • Women reported having others’ take credit for their work (27%), being passed over for promotion (25%), and assumptions about their ability (16%), at rates higher than men (22%, 22%, and 13%).
  • Women of color reported the highest rates of being passed over for promotion (30%), being stereotyped (24%), and having their identity mistaken for another person of the same race/gender (17%) of any group.
Women’s negative experiences were directly related to turnover.
  • 56% of women who experienced unwanted sexual attention said that these experiences contributed to their decision to leave their previous company.
  • 59% of women of color who were passed over for promotion said this experience contributed to their decision to leave.
“Although I was at my job for eight years and increased my skills, responsibilities, and output within that time, I never received a promotion or raise because of the “budget.” I later found out that my male coworker of about the same level received two raises and a promotion within that same time period. Toward the last few years, an older man joined the team and he would occasionally (sometimes weekly, sometimes once a month) make comments to me in a joking tone but about my gender, sexuality, or race. Very stereotypical and offensive comments that made the entire office uncomfortable.” Filipino, Female, Engineer
Women want more (equal) pay and better leadership, but equally important are having work-life balance and a respectful environment to work in.

What can companies do? These top 5 factors were identified by women in tech as factors that would have encouraged them to stay with their previous company, all of which are tied to culture and fair treatment:

  1. Better pay (73%)
  2. Improved company leadership (69%)
  3. Promotion (65%)
  4. Greater work-life balance and schedule flexibility (65%)
  5. A more positive and respectful work environment (63%)

The sample of women in the Tech Leavers Study included a total of 594 women, 67% were White or Asian and 33% were Black, Latinx, or Native American/Alaskan Native. See the Appendix for more detailed data on the sample.

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