After a hiring boom during the pandemic, many large tech companies are now experiencing hiring freezes and mass layoffs. The measures are aimed at reducing losses and keeping profit margins intact, but many fear they also threaten the diversity of tech companies.
Although they are sometimes unavoidable, layoffs don’t have to undermine your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Let’s take a look at how layoffs can affect DEI and ways to prevent diversity from taking a backseat in times of financial trouble.
Why are there big tech layoffs?
While many industries have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, the tech industry has seen a hiring boom. Companies have been quick to hire to meet the expected demand for digital solutions for the now largely remote work model.
However, as the world of work settled into new work models, these perceived requirements were not fully realized. Facing declining revenue and a likely recession, tech companies have begun cutting their workforces.
How this layoff may threaten the diversity of technologies
In 2023, 454 tech companies have already laid off workers, leaving over 123,000 employees out of a job. Many worry that these layoffs disproportionately affect women and minorities.
For example, a lawsuit filed against Twitter alleges that the tech giant laid off 57% of its female employees compared to 47% of its male employees.
Why the difference?
There are a number of reasons why layoffs can disproportionately affect women and minority employees, including:
- Women and minorities are more likely to work in vulnerable departments. Layoffs disproportionately affect those in non-technical roles such as sales, HR or customer support. The tech industry is still dominated by white men and women, and minorities tend to be a larger percentage of the positions being eliminated.
- Newer employees are often the first to be let go. It seems reasonable to retain employees who have been with the company longer and reward them for their loyalty. But that means new hires, who are more likely to have been hired during recent diversity initiatives, are more likely to be let go.
- DEI initiatives are pushed aside by other pressing priorities. In a booming economy, many companies are emphasizing DEI. Some even hire people dedicated to DEI initiatives. However, when the economy turns and the focus shifts to business survival, these efforts take a backseat to revenue concerns.
DEI is not an optional ideal just for the good times. If you want to build an inclusive work culture, it must remain an ongoing priority.
Why DEI shouldn’t be a luxury
While redundancies are necessary, it’s important to keep DEI in mind as you go through the process. When women and minorities are disproportionately affected, a vicious cycle is set in motion that hinders efforts to reestablish a diverse workforce.
For example, between February 2020 and February 2021, 2.4 million women left the labor force compared to 1.8 million men. Uneven numbers can impact the future of women in the workforce, as more of them spend their efforts on finding work rather than growing their careers and attaining leadership positions.
In addition, diversity tends to be higher in entry-level roles, especially for companies in the early stages of their DEI initiatives. Hiring freezes and fears of further layoffs make it difficult for companies to hire or reach promising talent.
Most job seekers today, they are looking for employers who support diversity and inclusion. If you want diversity to thrive in your organization, DEI shouldn’t be something you consider after everything else.
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How to ensure diversity in your organization
While layoffs may be inevitable at times, you can take steps to ensure your company upholds its values and supports women and minorities in the workplace.
Here are six tips for building and maintaining a diverse and equitable workplace—even in tough times.
1. Include DEI in your hiring best practices
To maintain it, you need to build a diverse workforce. Explore yours recruitment policies and procedures and make sure they include best practices such as:
- Focus on relevant skills in job posting and candidate assessment
- Considering the potential and “coachability” of candidates, not just experience
- Active recruitment of candidates from underrepresented groups
Getting the right people on board creates a foundation of diversity that will be easier to maintain as you move forward. It also saves you time and money in the long run by reducing turnover.
2. Maintain an anti-discrimination policy even during layoffs
Many companies already focus on diversity when recruiting new employees. To maintain your values during a downturn, create the same patterns during layoffs.
Make sure you have (HR) people dedicated to DEI on hand during the layoff decision process. This can mean making the case for these roles with leadership so they don’t see these initiatives as unnecessary expenses.
3. Train top decision makers
Instead of just promoting your commitment to diversity and equality, make it part of your culture by educating those at the top how and why to embrace it. Teach managers, executives and team leadership skills to help them be inclusive during decision-making and restructuring.
This can mean including content and courses on diversity with topics such as recognizing and eliminating unconscious bias, gender mainstreaming and inclusive leaders.
If you put in the effort to build successful DEI training now your leadership will be prepared to act thoughtfully and intentionally to preserve these values in the difficult times ahead.
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4. Make it standard practice to hire and promote people from underrepresented groups
Implementing a diverse hiring and promotion pattern will ensure that you have more diverse representation in critical roles within the company. If layoffs become a reality in the future, diversity will not suffer.
For example, Slack is strengthening its commitment to diversity with the Rising Tides program. This six-month training course is dedicated to supporting emerging leaders from groups that typically do not have access to this kind of support.
5. Offer inclusive training
Ensure diversity and inclusion efforts are reflected in every part of your organization by creating a level playing field for employee advancement. Design inclusive education programsconsidering the barriers that may prevent some employees from fully participating.
For example, hybrid or remote workers may be overlooked when you provide training to on-site workers. Make sure everyone has access by offering self-administered online training for your employees in multiple locations.
Also keep in mind representation in your courses. Do the characters in the gamification elements, graphics, and instructional videos reflect the diversity your company is trying to promote?
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6. Communicate your commitment to diversity
When you make your commitments public, you clarify your values. You are also much more likely to keep those promises during times of struggle.
For example, Asana developed a strategy to create a culture of diversity within the organization. It focuses on three focus areas: Building on existing culture, recruiting for a diverse future, and helping all employees thrive in the present. They also post diversity statistics by department on their careers pages.
Find ways to support internal DEI initiatives through special programs or targeted training. AND be transparent about results so that employees and potential employees know that your words are genuine.
Diversity in the workplace is an ongoing effort
Every company experiences tough times at some point in its growth. As a result, your revenue and your workforce may suffer. But that doesn’t mean your commitment to diversity has to be necessary.
If you’re prepared, you can navigate layoffs and attrition thoughtfully and maintain your commitment to diversity and inclusion.