2020 PoC in Tech Report: “Diverse teams produce better results”
We spoke with Vinay Bhagat, Founder and CEO of TrustRadius about the 2020 People of Color in Tech Report and its important findings. Bhagat discusses what challenges PoC in tech face, how diversity can be improved, and how the tech sector will change in coming years.
JAXenter: Hi Vinay and thanks for taking the time for our interview! TrustRadius, just released its People of Color in Tech Report. In your opinion, what are the most interesting/important findings?
Vinay Bhagat: Though there are more PoC in tech now compared to 10 years ago, they’re often not visible in executive and leadership roles. For most respondents, PoC leaders are outnumbered by 4:1 or more. (In the report, we shine a spotlight on a handful of tech leaders of color who are making a difference, for their own companies and future generations of leaders.)
Tech professionals of color have more difficulty finding a mentor in their field. More than twice as many Black or African American respondents struggled to find a mentor compared to their white colleagues. Indigenous and Latine respondents struggled more than Asian respondents, who have more representation in the industry.
67% of tech professionals think their companies should do more to address racial inequality. Among people of color in the industry, that desire for action is even stronger.
Even though Diversity & Inclusion initiatives have not yet been widely operationalized—less than half of respondents work for a company with a D&I department or executive— there’s high confidence among both POC and white tech professionals that D&I can be effective. Interestingly, CEOs & founders are the most likely to worry D&I programs won’t work.
There were also some really actionable findings for tech companies and tech professionals who want to be allies for people of color. For example, the number one way PoC in tech are looking for employers to support them is by implementing plans to improve diversity recruitment. We’re currently working on this ourselves at TrustRadius.
the number one way PoC in tech are looking for employers to support them is by implementing plans to improve diversity recruitment.
JAXenter: Are there any unexpected findings in the report?
Vinay Bhagat: The fact that 15% of respondents think their companies are doing too much to address racial inequality astounded me. Among white respondents that number is 17%. I can’t get over it. The reality is I think companies, and the tech industry as a whole, need to do far more. The majority of respondents agree with me, but to see that 17% was disheartening.
I was also surprised by the number of people who don’t feel comfortable bringing issues of discrimination up internally at their companies, even to HR. Only half of PoC respondents said they were comfortable discussing race or racial discrimination with Human Resources. That finding gave me pause, because I realized that PoC employees may be experiencing issues I’m not aware of. At TrustRadius one of our company values is Transparency. But it’s a particularly hard thing to be transparent about. I realized we need more avenues for employee feedback and anonymous concerns, for folks who might not be comfortable with a direct conversation.
JAXenter: What are the most common obstacles for PoC joining the tech sector?
Vinay Bhagat: Some of the most common obstacles are prejudice and unconscious bias within the recruitment process. That, and unequal access to education and opportunities that build experience. Companies tend to recruit from a specific mold. We often rely on networking to save time. Resume screeners, and then interviewers, tend to prefer candidates similar to themselves. Any one of these things can preclude diversity in hiring, and really amount to excluding PoC who are looking to enter the field. Qualified candidates can often get screened out because of background / perceived fit, even if well-educated. That was my experience.
JAXenter: Do products of the tech industry show lack of diversity? In which way?
Vinay Bhagat: Yes, in the sense that people of color are not getting their ideas funded at an equitable rate. People of color are the most knowledgeable about, and the most motivated to innovate solutions for, their communities. In the tech sector, venture capital firms (which have a stark lack of diversity themselves) decide whose ideas are worth investing in. Those are the ideas that will get built, that have the highest chance of succeeding. It’s harder for PoC founders to get VC backing at all. When they do, it tends to be less funding than white peers receive.
Then there are design considerations. Across the industry there’s growing interest in accessibility. More accessible design can actually benefit all users while ensuring that products meet the basic needs of marginalized user groups. For users with impaired vision this might mean higher contrast color schemes or structured markup to enable text to voice. For elderly users, this might mean bigger buttons or a simpler UI. For people of color, one way tech products can feel inaccessible is in their marketing, in terms of the promotional images that are used. Stock photography skews white, and if campaigns are dominated by white imagery and products are endorsed by white industry influencers, that can really show the lack of diversity behind the products, the people making them, and users they’re designed to serve.
More accessible design can actually benefit all users while ensuring that products meet the basic needs of marginalized user groups.
JAXenter: How could the situation be improved?
Vinay Bhagat: We need not only entrepreneurs of color, but designers and engineers of color working to make these technologies a reality. We need to be testing UX with diverse users to inform product functionality, as well as the language that is used within product interfaces and to describe products. Then we need marketers of color, and stock photography featuring people of color for them to draw on in promotional campaigns.
We found that nearly half of POC see unconscious bias playing a major role in interviewing and hiring at their companies, compared to less than a third of their white peers. The first step here is to acknowledge the forces of bias shaping our decisions. We have a problem with exclusivity and microaggressions in tech culture. One thing I’ve done is to stop using the term “culture fit,” and start thinking more in terms of potential “culture add.”
JAXenter: In which way do you think will the tech sector change in the next couple of years?
Vinay Bhagat: The global pandemic has made the tech sector even more competitive. It’s reminded us of economic vulnerabilities, the need to retain customers and really make them successful, and the importance of passionate, talented employees to everything we do. I think investing in D&I, and taking a position on social and political issues that affect our employees as well as our customers, will become non-negotiable to succeed in the market.
I’m also hoping that more kids of color, and kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who might be first-generation college students, are able to pursue higher education in STEM fields and the liberal arts and subsequently enter the tech industry.
JAXenter: What are your hopes for the 2020s?
Vinay Bhagat: Research shows that diverse teams produce better results. In business, the proof is in the pudding, but we need to seed more diverse projects in order to see those results across the industry. I’m hoping that we see more investment in PoC-founded startups, and see more successful IPOs and acquisitions of PoC-led companies, so that it starts to feel like the norm rather than the exception. I’m also hoping we see more Fortune 500 and Fortune 1,000 companies promote or appoint people of color to executive positions. I’m also hoping that more kids of color, and kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who might be first-generation college students, are able to pursue higher education in STEM fields and the liberal arts and subsequently enter the tech industry. They face real challenges to do so, it’s not easy. But there are some awesome organizations out there, like Code2College, that are supporting them with training in coding skills, ongoing mentorship, paid internships, resume reviews, and more. As part of this study, TrustRadius made a donation to Code2College. We’re also supporting them on an ongoing basis with volunteers. That’s something I encourage other tech leaders to do—find and support organizations that will help get the next generation of PoC into their workforces.