Tech's Problem Is Bias, Not Qualified Candidates: Report

The United States is producing qualified STEM workers, but they're just not being hired, according to the findings of an Equal Employment Opportunity report.

gender, ethnic pay gap

The high-tech industry famously faces a shortage of qualified labor. However, according to a "Diversity in High Tech" report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), that shortage would be far less dramatic were U.S. tech firms to hire all qualified candidates, rather than mostly just white men.

While there is some truth to the so-called "pipeline" problem, said the report, "there are additional factors at play."

There is "anxiety" over the ability of the U.S. educational system to supply a workforce that can adequately support the country's rapidly expanding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industries, explained the report. However, the study concluded: "Stereotyping and bias, often implicit and unconscious, have led to underutilization of the available workforce. The result is an overwhelming dominance of white men and scant participation of African Americans and other racial minorities. …. It has been shown, for example, that men are twice as likely as women to be hired for a job in mathematics when the only difference between candidates is gender."

The report went on to note, citing The Urban Institute, that the U.S. educational system actually produces more qualified science and engineering graduates than there are jobs available. The problem is that "close to 50 percent of STEM graduates in the U.S. are not hired in STEM-related fields."

The tech industry also faces an "exiting" problem, reports the EEOC. Women, feeling unsupported or without a path to growth, wind up leaving STEM professions.

"While 80 of U.S. women working in STEM fields say they love their work, 32 percent also say they feel stalled and are likely to quit within a year," stated the report. "Research by The Center for Work-Life Policy shows that 41 percent of qualified scientists, engineers and technologists are women at the lower rungs of corporate ladders but more than half quit their jobs."

More than anything, it's bias that brings women to leave. They face inhospitable work cultures, isolation, conflicting work styles (men like to "firefight," while women tend to plan, it explained), schedules that conflict with "women's heavy household management workload" and a lack of advancement.

Further, these experiences were heightened for non-White women.

In a survey of 557 female scientists, two-thirds reported having to prove themselves over and over again, and having their successes discounted or their expertise questioned—while three-fourths of Black women reported the same.

Fifty-three percent of the scientists reported experiencing backlash for being decisive, outspoken or speaking their minds.

Thirty-four percent reported feeling pressured to play traditionally feminine roles, a figure that rose to 41 percent among Asian women. And the women—particularly Black and Latina—reported being seen as "angry" when they didn't conform to a female stereotype.

Additionally, there's a racial and ethnic pay gap in STEM fields.

"Asian-Americans reported the highest average earnings in STEM occupations," said the report, "while non-Hispanic whites also had above-average earnings; black and Hispanic professionals earned below-average wages in 2012."

Adding greater insult to the injury of inequality is the fact that the high-tech sector is one of the best sectors to be in.

"These jobs tend to provide higher pay and better benefits, and they have been more resilient to economic downturns than other private-sector industries over the past decade," said the report, making them "important to the national economic and employment outlook."

The EEOC added, "The high-tech sector [affects] how we communicate and access information, distribute products and services, and address critical societal problems. Because this sector is the source of an increasing number of jobs, it is particularly important that the [EEOC] and its stakeholders understand the emerging trends in this industry."