Why is gender diversity in tech so much easier to solve than racial diversity?

Airbnb is leading the tech industry in gender diversity, but still has far to go before it is racially diverse

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Diversity is a serious problem in the tech industry. In recent months, major companies including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have released statistics showing the severe lack of women and minorities in their workforces. For one of the most innovative industries, tech's progress on diversity has been depressingly slow.

There are outliers like Intel, which recently announced it would invest $300 million over the next five years to improve diversity, and Pinterest, a company whose staff is 40 percent women. (At the executive level, that figure shrinks to 19 percent.)  "It's time to step up and do more. It's not good enough to say we value diversity," Intel CEO Krzanich said last week during CES. But a large number of tech companies do just that, promoting diversity in speeches while hiring relatively few women and minorities.

The Verge asked several major tech companies to disclose their progress on hiring a more diverse workforce. Most of them, including GoPro, Lyft, Snapchat, Square, and Uber, were unresponsive to multiple requests for comment. Netflix and Tesla declined to participate. While industry titans like Apple and Google may have been pressured to release diversity data by shareholders and media outlets, the next generation of top-tier companies, nearly all with multi-billion dollar valuations and heavily backed by venture capital, have generally sidestepped commenting on diversity.

MANY COMPANIES HAVE AVOIDED COMMENTING ON DIVERSITY ISSUES

Airbnb isn’t one of those companies. The hospitality platform has chosen to share its diversity statistics publicly for the first time with The Verge. "Last year, we submitted our Equal Opportunity Employment information to the U.S. Department of Labor. We don’t think our current figures are acceptable, and we want to share these numbers as we actively work to improve them through a variety of efforts," an Airbnb spokesperson said.

Each year, every company with more than 100 employees submits a document known as an EEO-1 to the US Department of Labor. The document details the gender and racial breakdown of their US-based workforce. Airbnb submitted its EEO-1 in September 2014.

Overall, Airbnb’s US staff is 66 percent white, 20 percent Asian, 6 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent black. Leadership positions skew white and male; 76 percent of managers and executives are white and 60 percent of the leadership group is male.

Like most companies in the tech industry, Airbnb’s diversity track record isn’t great, especially when it comes to employing blacks and Hispanics. Nationally, black and Hispanic workers make up 12 and 16 percent of the US workforce, respectively. Only 9 percent of Airbnb’s US workforce is black or Hispanic, and that number shrinks to 4 percent — 3 percent Hispanic and 1 percent black — when only considering technology jobs.

It's hard to say what counts as a technology job, exactly — every company defines it differently. Generally speaking, tech workers have a direct impact on the product — so technicians, professionals, managers, and executives are considered tech workers, and administrative support and service workers are not.

Blacks hold only 1 percent of technology positions at Airbnb

To improve workplace diversity, Airbnb hired educator Freada Kapor Klein of the Level Playing Field Institute to address the subject with all employees. "We are increasing education for our employees around issues such as unconscious biases, and will be devoting time during our second annual all-employee meeting in February to this learning," an Airbnb spokesperson said. The company is working with Code2040 to connect with more minorities in tech and will introduce a diversity and inclusion course, which will be available to all Airbnb employees. "We are also looking at ways this education can be expanded to our community of hosts and guests," the spokesperson said.

The lack of blacks and Hispanics throughout the tech industry is far from the only diversity-related issue — women are sorely underrepresented in all aspects of the tech industry, especially in technology positions. Only 17 percent of the technology roles at Google and Microsoft are filled by women, and that number falls to 10 percent at Twitter. But Airbnb is a different story — the company has nearly bridged the gender gap within its ranks. Airbnb’s report shows women make up 47 percent of its overall US staff, a number that Airbnb tells us increases to 49 percent worldwide.

Those numbers don’t dip much when you look at women in tech roles and in leadership positions, with Airbnb’s report showing 43 percent of tech and 39 percent of leadership positions are filled by women. Those percentages surpasses every major tech company that has released diversity statistics thus far. Where Airbnb drops off is in engineering, with women making up only 13 percent of its staff, according to the company. Despite its poor record of hiring women in engineering roles, Airbnb is still leading the way when it comes to major tech companies hiring women in the workplace, which may say more about the current state of the industry than Airbnb's record.

Airbnb has nearly bridged the gender gap within its ranks

Airbnb says it's attracting more women because it invested in building a strong pipeline. The company has a group of female engineers, known as the Nerdettes, who serve as mentors at a 10-week software development academy for women called Hackbrite Academy. They host middle schoolers in San Francisco, where the company has its headquarters, and work with Girls Who Code, a national organization working to close the gender gap. It hosts a series of discussions with young women in the industry on technology and data science called Taking Flight, featuring members of its leadership team. And the company sponsors and sends employees to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Computing, an annual conference for women in tech, "to both inspire the next generation of female engineers and ensure that we can create a strong pipeline for women here at Airbnb," an Airbnb spokesperson said." Airbnb is also sponsoring next month’s Lesbians Who Tech Summit.

Airbnb Flag

Airbnb has created an internal team that monitors diversity progress within the company and that can help educate other employees on the best way to build a diverse workplace. "This task force is sponsoring speakers, developing relationships with outside groups, and serves as a resource for global team members to track our efforts and see where we can improve," an Airbnb spokesperson said.

While Airbnb has a long way to go to diversify its staff, it’s not shying away from the issue, and taking a direct approach to address its faults, unlike many others in the industry. Diversity is a problem within Airbnb — and around the industry — that talking alone won’t solve. But more companies must be willing to have these conversations before change can begin to take place.

Bridging the gender gap is equally as important as increasing diversity, and a place where Airbnb is one of the leaders in the tech industry. While many have pointed to the fact that only 18 percent of computer science degrees are earned by women, Airbnb is showing there are still ways to shrink the gender gap right now.

Gadgets and services built by the tech industry affect our everyday lives more than ever before, and that impact will only continue to increase. With so much of the world becoming dependent on technology, we can’t have one of the most powerful industries on Earth run without women, without different cultures, and without diversity. That isn’t good for technology, it isn’t good for the customers, it isn’t good for our society, and it definitely isn’t good for business.

Update: January 20th, 6:30PM: Airbnb has brought forth new information that shows only 13 percent of its engineering positions are filled by women. The article has been updated accordingly.


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