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Meeting of 5-18-16 - Promoting Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces in the Tech Sector

Written Testimony of Erin M. Connell (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP)

Thank you for the invitation to appear before the Commission to offer comments and answer questions on the important topic of diversity in the tech sector.

Before addressing some of the innovative solutions being implemented by technology companies today, it is important first to understand why there are lower percentages of women and minorities (in particular, African-Americans and Hispanics) in technical jobs than in nontechnical jobs, and why-despite best intentions-these numbers have been slow to change.

In large part, the problem stems from the fact that historically, women and minorities were less likely to study computer science or major in STEM fields, largely because they were discouraged, or not encouraged, to do so. Research shows that for female students, lack of encouragement and exposure are key factors explaining why they choose not to pursue computer science degrees.1 This education gap has led to a skills gap, which continues to be the primary driver of hiring disparities in tech jobs today. Unfortunately, statistics illustrate that the problem is not getting better, and in some cases, it is actually getting worse.

For example, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center ("NSCRC") recently conducted a ten-year review of Science & Engineering degree attainment at colleges and universities. Although the results show that women consistently have earned roughly 50 percent of Science and Engineering bachelor's degrees generally, this overall "parity" primarily is driven by women's overrepresentation in fields such as psychology (77 percent), biological and agricultural sciences (58 percent), and social sciences (53 percent). Yet in the field most directly relevant to the tech sector-computer science-women still lag behind. In 2014, women earned only 18 percent of computer science degrees; a drop from 2004 when they earned 23 percent.

Data from the Computing Research Association shows similar results for minorities. In 2014, African-Americans earned 4.1 percent of computing degrees (defined as computer science, computer engineering, and information), and Hispanics earned 7.7 percent. Specifically with respect to computer science degrees, African-Americans earned 3.2 percent in 2014 (down from 3.8 percent in 2013), and Hispanics earned 6.8 percent (up from 6 percent in 2013).

In light of this pipeline issue, some of the most innovative and promising diversity initiatives coming out of the technology sector focus on education. While tech companies have implemented dozens of programs, I will highlight only four in the limited time for remarks today (although I would be happy to provide an expanded supplement if requested by the Commission):

  • Facebook's TechPrep, a website launched in 2015 that connects both students and their parents and guardians to computer science and technology resources. The website is in both English and Spanish. It includes information on programmers' earnings and school requirements. It also includes visual programmer profiles, including men and women of all races, to allow students to see people who look like them succeeding in computer science related jobs.
  • Oracle's support for Design Tech High School, a free, innovative charter school that incorporates technology, design thinking and problem solving skills. Oracle is building Design Tech a brand new facility on the Oracle Headquarters campus, which will be the school's permanent home starting in 2017.
  • Intel's support for CODE2040, including a $1.3 million investment over the course of three years to support CODE2040's Fellows and Technical Application Prep (TAP) Programs, which aim to inspire and support more women and minorities to earn technical degrees.
  • Microsoft's DigiGirlz, an initiative that provides female middle and high school students an opportunity to learn about careers in technology and connect with mentors in the field to inspire them. DigiGirlz hosts events and camps around the world where students gain exposure to careers in technology.

But the tech sector today is engaged in far more than education initiatives. Technology companies also have implemented other diversity initiatives aimed to increase minority and female representation in the short term, and to retain diverse talent.

One initiative growing in popularity is tech's adaptation of the "Rooney Rule." The rule, named after Dan Rooney, the chair of the Pittsburgh Steelers and head of a diversity committee that produced the directive, requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching and senior positions. Several tech companies are now requiring at least one female or minority to be considered when hiring for certain open positions, such as leadership positions. As noted by Joan Williams, a law professor who specializes in women's issues in the workplace, the Rooney Rule provides companies a way to expand hiring beyond networks of people they already know, which tends to positively impact diversity.

Another initiative growing in popularity is the offer of prizes (such as iPads) for diverse employee referrals, or incentive payments to recruiters for diverse candidates. Several technology companies also now employ diversity recruiters, whose job is to specifically find and attract diverse talent. Other tech companies have publicly announced percentage-based hiring goals or utilization benchmarks.

Along with a focus on improving numbers, unconscious bias training has become fairly widespread, including an emphasis on "bias interrupters," which are changes made in employment practices aimed to curb or reduce the impact of bias. Additionally, now more than ever, tech companies are focusing on analyzing pay and ensuring pay equity; implementing expanded family-friendly leave policies and health benefits; and creating internships, scholarships, mentoring and sponsorship programs, substantive and leadership training courses, and affinity groups-all aimed at retaining diverse talent. Several innovative examples exist, and I am happy to provide a supplemental list if requested by the Commission.

In closing, tech companies have implemented numerous initiatives to address different aspects of the diversity challenges they face due to a long-standing education gap in computer science and related fields. Addressing the gap itself, however, is critical to ensuring sustainable change.


Footnote

1 In May 2014, Google commissioned a study entitled "Women Who Choose Computer Science-What Really Matters." The goal was to identify and understand the factors that influence young women's decisions to pursue degrees in computer science. The study found that encouragement and exposure are key controllable indicators for whether or not young women decide to pursue a computer science degree.