San Francisco Chronicle

Retaining workers is challenge to diversity

- By Nicholas Cheng

Women, blacks and Latinos are far more likely to quit jobs in tech than white or Asian men, according to a new report by the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

The Oakland nonprofit commission­ed an online survey by the Harris Poll, which asked 2,006 people who voluntaril­y left tech jobs in the past three years about why they quit. It found women were twice as likely to leave as men, while black and Latino tech workers were 3.5 times likelier to quit than white or Asian colleagues. The most common reason they gave for their departures was workplace mistreatme­nt.

Cat Perez, who participat­ed in the survey, once woke up every morning dreading the thought of going to work. She disliked most of her colleagues at a male-dominated tech company where she previously worked. Perez felt like her boss frequently hovered behind her as she worked, and recalled women being delegated tasks like ordering lunch for co-workers and putting up office decoration­s.

“It was toxic,” said Perez. “It wasn’t an environmen­t I could grow or do my best work. I didn’t like how others were being treated, I didn’t like the ethics of the leader and these experience­s added up.”

Perez left and is now the cofounder and chief product officer of Health-Sherpa, a startup with offices in San Francisco and Sacramento that helps people obtain health coverage.

Women held 25 percent of computer- and math-related jobs in the U.S. in 2016, while blacks and Latinos made up 14.7 percent of that workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Firms like Facebook and Google have started disclosing the gender and racial makeup of their workforce, but recent company-issued diversity reports suggest the industry is making at best glacial progress.

Many of those reports specifical­ly examine new hires, showing that companies are making progress in diversifyi­ng their recruiting. But the Kapor report suggests that not enough attention is being paid to retaining workers.

Other reasons for employees’ departures included being poached by another company, seeking better opportunit­ies or dissatisfa­ction with their role or work environmen­t.

Of those surveyed, 37 percent said they left their jobs because they felt they were unfairly treated; 78 percent said they had experience­d some form of unfair treatment; and 85 percent said they had witnessed ill treatment happening to someone else at work. Black and Latino employees, the study said, were more likely to leave due to unfair treatment at work than white or Asian colleagues.

“This study is one step forward in demonstrat­ing that there is a problem across the tech industry,” said Allison Scott, the center’s chief research officer. “We’ve seen the anecdotes and stories written lately and what we found is that those are not oneoff stories, these are experience­s happening across the sector and it’s a driver for people to leave.”

The study estimates that the tech industry loses $16 billion annually from employee turnover due to unfair treatment. Scott said one employee’s departure could cost a company $144,000 in lost productivi­ty and recruiting a replacemen­t.

Driving employees away through mistreatme­nt could also raise a company’s hiring costs. The survey found that 35 percent of those who left said they were less likely to refer others to their former employers, and 25 percent said they wouldn’t recommend others buy or use the companies’ products.

Jason Stomel, CEO of Cadre Talent, a tech recruiting firm, said clients have been explicitly looking to hire more diverse employees.

“Having a diverse team (or) female-founded companies is something we will build into our company pitches,” he said. “We believe is a huge positive for a company and we typically feature that statement prominentl­y when discussing opportunit­ies with candidates.”

But he questioned whether every company was sincere in seeking diversity.

“The valley is notorious for exuding sheeplike behavior,” he said. “Do they really care about improving their diversity or is it just a PR thing? That really all depends on each company and its morals.”

“A lot of companies view diversity as a nice to have as opposed to a need to have,” said Daniel Malmer, chief technology officer of Blendoor, a recruiting startup that released a diversity ranking for 138 Silicon Valley companies this month. He said some companies appeared to be engaging in “diversity theater” where they hire more underrepre­sented workers but don’t nurture them on the job.

“Inclusion is just as important as diversity and these types of things start at the top,” said Malmer. “The management needs to set the priorities and influence the culture.”

 ?? Chris Kaufman / Special to The Chronicle ?? Cat Perez, co-founder of health insurance startup HealthSher­pa, works at her office in Sacramento.
Chris Kaufman / Special to The Chronicle Cat Perez, co-founder of health insurance startup HealthSher­pa, works at her office in Sacramento.
 ?? Chris Kaufman / Special to The Chronicle ?? Cat Perez, chief product officer and co-founder of HealthSher­pa, stands next to CEO George Kalogeropo­ulos as they hand out pens.
Chris Kaufman / Special to The Chronicle Cat Perez, chief product officer and co-founder of HealthSher­pa, stands next to CEO George Kalogeropo­ulos as they hand out pens.

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