Why Info Tech Is Dominated By White Males

Why Info Tech Is Dominated By White Males

A new study shows that IT workplaces tend to be hostile towards women and people of color.

The Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) has released a new study that shows that information technology workplaces (IT) can create hostile environments toward women and minorities, which has contributed to such a demographically uneven representation in the IT industry between males and females, whites and minorities. Previously thought to be primarily an issue of education, with many more white males seeking IT degrees, it seems that the problem goes deeper than that. The study says that IT workplaces foster a culture that excludes and bullies women and minorities at a much higher rate than they do males or whites. “The IT sector is one of the fastest growing in our country, yet women and people of color continue to be vastly underrepresented,” LPFI Executive Director Robert Schwartz to Venture Beat.

The LPFI is an organization that attempts to diagnose why certain demographics, mainly women and people of color, are so underrepresented in STEM communities (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and to treat it through awareness, education, and influencing policy. The report, Playing Field: An Examination of Hidden Bias in Information Technology Workplaces, included both large technology firms as well as small startups in its population data. The conclusion was that these workplaces used subtle and overt preferential treatment that could, "produce unequal opportunities and outcomes for employees depending on their race and gender." Much of the behavior was exclusionary, with cliques isolating themselves from women and minorities, or in increased numbers of negative workplace incidents. These subtle forms of discrimination over time could influence women and people of color to find other industries with more egalitarian working climates. The study also concluded that most IT hiring manages placed diversity in the workplace as a low priority, 68% of the engineers and managers polled saying they were satisfied with their company's diversity efforts despite the underrepresentation of women and people of color. This reflects a serious complacency on the part of the IT industry in advocating for diversity.

LPFI recommended more studies into the inherent biases with the IT community, and greater awareness development on the part of IT companies. However, with such a quickly growing industry, certain cultural mores tend to develop equally quickly. People that I've personally spoken to in the industry are very comfortable with the fact that women and minorities are underrepresented because they feel it's simply a difference of emphasis in higher education. In fact, one engineer, a male, even insinuated that women's minds were not the spatially-ordinate kind needed for engineering and IT work. These types of cultural preconceptions could be very damaging for the future of diversity within the IT workplace, and as the industry is also becoming one of the most lucrative and critical industries in developing nations, it will be more important than ever for women and people of color to be represented in its products and services.