Why is addressing harassment and abuse important to diversity?

Harassment, abuse, and other kinds of marginalizing behavior are major reasons that people from minority groups in tech limit their interactions with technical communities, stop attending conferences, or drop out of the industry entirely.

Why women are leaving the tech industry in droves

In the early years of their careers, women self-report themselves to be ambitious and happy. But over time they get ground down. Most have very few female role models and colleagues. Surveys find 23% to 66% report experiencing sexual harassment or seeing it happen to others. Half the respondents to my survey said they’ve been treated in a way they find hostile, demeaning or condescending, and a third said their bosses are friendlier and more supportive with their male colleagues.

Closing a Door

I finally realized that I could no longer contribute to a community where I was technically respected, but I could not ask for personal respect. I could not work with people who helpfully encouraged newcomers to send patches, and then argued that maintainers should be allowed to spew whatever vile words they needed to in order to maintain radical emotional honesty. I did not want to work professionally with people who were allowed to get away with subtle sexist or homophobic jokes. I feel powerless in a community that had a “Code of Conflict” without a specific list of behaviors to avoid and a community with no teeth to enforce it.

What do marginalized groups in tech experience?

Elephant in the Valley is a report from a 2015 survey focused on women working in Silicon Valley. Their findings include:

The 5 Biases Pushing Women Out of STEM:

Nearly half of black women (48%) and Latinas (47%) report having been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff, an experience far less common for white (32%) and Asian-American (23%) women scientists

A 2017 Kapor Center study found:

Tech employees from all backgrounds cited unfairness more than any other factor as a key driver of their decision to leave.

Unfairness or mistreatment within the work environment was the most frequently cited reason for leaving, with 37% of the sample indicating that unfair treatment was a major factor in their decision to leave their company.

While employees from all backgrounds experienced unfair treatment in their previous workplace, it is clear that employees from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds faced unique challenges. While White and Asian men and women were most likely to experience unfair management practices which had to deal with day-to-day employment experiences like work assignments, underrepresented groups experienced much more negative treatment specific to their racial/gender backgrounds (stereotyping and sexual harassment). Bullying and hostility affected all groups, which suggests these behaviors are more indicative of a toxic workplace culture, but LGBTQ employees were affected most acutely. These data demonstrate that workplace experiences differ dramatically by race, gender, and sexual orientation. Understanding the relationship between these experiences and employee turnover and retention is the next step in understanding the underrepresentation of diverse groups in the tech ecosystem.

Having a consistent and documented policy for resolving harmful behavior in your community is crucial.

More reading