When you think of the tech industry in America, the usual suspects come to mind: members of the all-white, slick, Harvard-graduated Silicon Valley boys club, operating out of offices fit for royalty, constantly delivering on innovation, creation and growth mostly because of their privileged backgrounds.
That image is rapidly changing, amidst a global climate of realisation that workplace diversity can - rather than hurt businesses - help them meet the goals of better products, reduced inequalities, better reputation, and decent work and economic growth, all of which drive better conditions and fairness in wider society. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prioritise the need for better diversity and inclusion in the American workplace, and it appears the tech space has truly begun to listen, opening up more opportunities for Indians to participate in the tech industry.
This is good news for India, home to one of the world’s largest pools of technology talent, but until now less favoured by ‘the big guys’ in tech due to one overriding reason: racism. While Microsoft and Gogole are spearheaded by Indians, white people still represent the vast majority of tech employees and leaders, followed much further behind by Asian people. And for those of non-whites who have been able to gain employment within the world’s leading tech companies, the journey hasn’t been an entirely smooth one.
A discriminatory profiling survey led by Blind, a social app that allows employees of large, mostly tech, companies to join private anonymous discussions groups, found that 50.35% of Indian respondants had witnessed or experienced discrimination in their workplace, compared with 49.65% who hadn’t.
The survey also revealed that PayPal, Uber and Microsoft lead the way in terms of equality and diversity in the workplace, while Amazon, LinkedIn and Expedia have much room for improvement: 66.33% of Amazon employees had seen or experienced discrimination while working there. The sad truth is, none of this is particularly shocking. Workplace discrimination is often the norm for non-white, female, lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) individuals, or for people of different ethnic and racial identities. What is promising, is that things appear to be starting to even out. There is some hope for the burgeoning pool of tech talent in India as big companies start to take notice of the fact that talent comes from all over the world, in all genders and colors.
Netflix seriously raised the bar on diversity and inclusion in recent years, taking on well-known figures like Vernā Myers, activist Darnell L. Moore, and former NFL player Wade Davis to tackle inclusion and diversity issues across the company, and by hiring former head of UN Women’s Integrated Strategy for Gender Innovation & Global Innovation Coalition for Change, Michelle P. King, to head its inclusion work. Then you have Mike Emerson, of LinkedIn, who over three years as SVP of sales grew an organisation where women represented 40 to 42 percent of leadership roles. Be it through the inclusion of LGBTQ employees, the empowerment of people of color, multiculturalism being cultivated in the workplace or through the support of women and working mothers, tech firms are paying attention to how, and who, they hire and operate.
Launched in South Korea in 2014, the now US-based social app Blind invites users to create verified accounts using a company email address before participating in public, searchable Blind discussions with participants from different companies. The platform was built to “empower every individual in the workplace” and “uplift voices that have been silenced”, in an effort to break down professional barriers and hierarchy, and to ultimately achieve workplace equality.
The platform has already shed light on multiple areas where tech companies are lagging: from their inability to recruit properly, to their capacity to discriminate against employees. In 2018, Blind found that nearly three-quarters of tech workers said they did not trust human resources to hire tech talent, and in 2017, Amazon’s workforce used the app to vent about how a high profile suicide attempt was handled by the company. With users from across 70,000 of the world’s largest companies, Blind is now used across the world to influence corporate decisions and enlighten executives on employees’ concerns.
When it comes to workplace diversity and inclusion in particular, the platform is rivalled by no other in terms of revealing what is going on behind closed doors. For now, it is showing the likelihood of a far more diverse and equal future. Just ten years ago, those figures mentioned above would have been vastly different, but in another few years those figures will be different again, revealing a much more inclusive and diverse workforce than ever before seen in the business world, let alone the tech world.
What this means is that slowly but steadily, a path is being opened for the millions of ambitious Indian tech workers seeking a better opportunity in life. India has an unrivalled young population with more than 65% of its people under the age of 35, and over 50% under 25. At the same time it is the second most connected nation in the world after China, with 560 million internet users in 2019. To top it all off, India was recently ranked as having the third largest startup environment in the world, and with the addition of more than 1,300 startups this year so far, India continues to reinforce its position as such.
Back in 2018, a paper was published with astounding findings: immigrants, especially Indians, prospered in America, whilst struggling to make ends meet back in their home country. Perhaps it is due to the fact that competition is fierce and therefore, talents are forced to be developed and perfected, creating a generation of highly skilled individuals in a highly saturated market. Being out of that environment and in America gives these individuals the chance to shine. Coupled with another report recently published last November, China and America are both countries in need of Indian talent.
A 2014 LinkedIn study, that tracked the movement of tech talent across the globe, found that the Indian city of Bangalore was growing tech talent faster than other cities in the world, earning the name “Silicon Valley of India” and leapfrogging many cities in the US in terms of density of tech talent. Elsewhere we are seeing the trend, too: by 2012, almost 16% of start-ups in Silicon Valley had an Indian co-founder even though Indians represented a mere 6% of the region’s population.
The future of diversity and inclusion in tech is promising, and the time is ripe for ambitious Indian workers to make their mark in the tech world, and for India to reinvent itself as a hub of technological innovation.