Why diversity efforts might be the next COVID-19 casualty

By Bärí a. Williams6 minute ReadEveryone I know from my community, and most that I know from any marginalized community (people of color, women, LGBTQ, differently abled), has heard some form of the two adages, “Last hired, first fired,” and “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they…

Why diversity efforts might be the next COVID-19 casualty

By Bärí a. Williams6 minute ReadEveryone I know from my community, and most that I know from any marginalized community (people of color, women, LGBTQ, differently abled), has heard some form of the two adages, “Last hired, first fired,” and “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” In essence, be prepared to do more for less.Nowhere is this principle more glaringly blatant than in tech, and with the COVID-19 pandemic making furloughs and layoffs necessary, the Band-Aid over a bullet wound of diversity initiatives is laid bare.The numbers tell the tale. Already we have seen who seems to be bearing the brunt of this recession via pandemic, with women comprising approximately 55% of the 20.5 million jobs lost in April 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there aren’t yet hard numbers on who has been impacted from recent tech layoffs at companies such as Airbnb, Uber, VSCO, and Lyft, one glance at the list of names published shows a large number of women and people of color. With representation in tech already so low, with black and brown people comprising about 9% of the employee base, collectively, with women making up about 35% of the employee base, and with women and POC making up the types of jobs—marketing, human resources, sales, and customer service—within tech companies that are often cut.In the broader workforce, black and Hispanic workers are more likely to work in lower-paid, consumer-facing service jobs that limit their ability to work remotely, according to Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute and the former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. As several 2019 McKinsey studies noted, women, black, and brown people tend to predominantly work in service roles, which are quickly being automated. Automation, AI, robotics, and job elimination were already tied, but the pandemic has exacerbated it, with companies finding they can derive the same productivity without the overhead.There is a big risk in losing the small gains we’ve made.For the last seven years, those with an eye on diversity in tech have watched every spring for tech companies to release their diversity numbers detailing how many employees in marginalized groups—people of color, LGBTQ, differently abled—make up the percentage of their workforce. For the last two years, several of these companies haven’t even bothered to release statistics, and it’s more of a long shot this year.In the middle of a pandemic, we have seen some companies that have long espoused their diversity efforts start to pull back or cut their efforts completely. Recently, Google has taken some heat for cutting its “Sojourn,” a comprehensive racial justice training program created for employees to learn about implicit bias and how to navigate conversations about
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