Canadian tech companies say they value diversity — but what are they doing about it? 

Good and needed reporting – particularly surprised with the lack of response of the larger companies (to be fair, Blackberry had bigger survival issues):

After U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January blocking citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S., a long list of Canadian tech companies signed a pledge opposing the ban.

Members of Canada’s tech community saw Trump’s move as a rejection of the diversity on which they felt their industry was built and decided to speak out.

“We believe that this diversity is a source of strength and opportunity,” read the open letter admonishing the ban, which was signed by executives and employees from some of the most well-known companies in the country — BlackBerry, Hootsuite, Shopify and more.

But when CBC News sought to gauge what this commitment to diversity looks like in practice, Canada’s tech community had remarkably little to say.

In May, we asked 31 Canadian technology companies if they collected data on the diversity of their employees, and if so, whether they would share this data with CBC News.

Only two companies — OTTO Motors, the commercial division of Waterloo, Ont.-based Clearpath Robotics, a maker of self-driving warehouse robots, and the Toronto-based investing app Wealthsimple — were willing to do so.

A third company, the Toronto-based online retail marketing startup Hubba, said it was preparing to conduct its first diversity survey and release the results in the coming month. It expects to publish a report on its progress every six months thereafter.

The sheer number of holdouts came as a surprise to Y-Vonne Hutchinson, founder of Oakland, Calif.-based diversity solutions firm ReadySet, in particular, given the number of U.S. companies that have published annual reports since 2014.

“It does make me question their commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Hutchinson, who is also on the team behind Project Include, which guides tech startups toward more diverse and inclusive practices. The project’s founding members include well-known diversity advocates such as Ellen Pao and Tracy Chou.

“By publishing these numbers, you increase transparency and accountability around how the organization looks and the way in which it prioritizes diversity and inclusion,” Hutchinson said.

Mostly white, mostly male

Many companies in tech and beyond have realized the key to building successful products and services is to have a range of employees — ones who think and look differently from one another — working together to solve problems.

The idea is that employees with varying backgrounds and skills can bring unique perspectives that aren’t necessarily represented by the tech sectors white, male majority.

That’s where diversity reports can help. One way for a company to better understand the types of people it employs — and where the gaps are — is to quantify that information and use it to build more diverse teams.

But that’s not to say measuring the problem alone leads to change. As recently as 2016, we learned that just 145 of Facebook’s nearly 8,500 employees are black. We learned that 12 per cent of Apple employees are Hispanic, versus just four per cent at Google.

And we learned that Uber has an engineering department where only 15 per cent of employees are women — a telling statistic for a company still smarting from a searing indictment of its workplace culture by one of its former engineers and the sexual harassment investigations launched in its wake.

Among the industry’s biggest players, there has been little progress in recent years.

Diversity reports also don’t include as much information as some would like — for example, how long employees stay, which can tell a story of its own, or how many employees are disabled or identify as LGTBQ. In their most basic form, they typically provide a snapshot of how tech’s most-influential companies are doing across job categories in terms of gender and race.

Yet in Canada, there have been no comparable public efforts to date.

Little to say

The companies approached by CBC News ranged from some of the largest and well-known in the country — including BlackBerry, Shopify and Hootsuite — to up-and-coming players such as ecobee, Thalmic and Breather.

We sent each company the following questions:

  • Does your company collect data on the diversity of your employees?
  • ​How is this data collected?
  • Why do you collect this data?
  • Can you provide your company’s most recently collected diversity data to CBC News?
  • Can you offer any details about programs/initiatives to support diversity and inclusion at your company?

The overwhelming majority of companies declined to participate while two of the biggest names in Canadian tech, BlackBerry and Hootsuite, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Provided-Info.png

E-commerce company Shopify said it was still analyzing its employee data and was hoping to have more information to share by the fall “or early next year.”

Others, such as the messaging app Kik and the satellite imaging company Urthecast, said they didn’t have the resources to collect this sort of information and would not say how long it would take to do so.

Many more, including ecobee, Wave, WattPad, Vision Critical, Lightspeed, Bench, TopHat, Vidyard, Sandvine and Hopper, said they didn’t formally collect diversity information.

Source: Canadian tech companies say they value diversity — but what are they doing about it? – Technology & Science – CBC News

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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