Diversity in Tech: Microsoft Announces 'Modest' Progress, But Female Representation Slips
Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. Mostly white men work in technology, and white men hold the vast majority of leadership positions as well. In the past couple of years though, many influential technology firms have been working to fix the dearth of underrepresented minorities in their workforces.
But in the latest diversity report from Microsoft, it appears that part of the company's diversity problem has actually gotten a little worse.
Microsoft released its latest workforce diversity report on Monday, outlining the changes going on in the company's employee makeup and touting improvements in diversity at the leadership level. But when it comes to women working at Microsoft, the numbers have actually slipped.
By the Numbers
Microsoft's report emphasized that it had made progress in diversifying its workforce, overall, over the last year. Gwen Houston, general manager of Microsoft's Global Diversity and Inclusion office, wrote candidly about the "modest" changes at the company on Microsoft's corporate blog.
"In the U.S., Microsoft saw modest year-over-year increases in nearly all racial and ethnic categories, including African-American/Black, Asian, Hispanic/Latino(a), and Multi-Racial representation," wrote Houston. "In two areas, American Indian/Native American and Pacific Islander, our percentages were flat."
According to the data, the overall percentage of Black employees has increased from 3.4 percent to 3.5 percent, representing 117 new additions. For Latinos, the progress was a little better -- relatively speaking -- going from 5.1 percent of Microsoft's overall workforce, or 3,080 employees, to 5.4 percent, or 159 new Latinos being hired over the past year.
The proportion of white employees stayed relatively stable, from an overwhelming majority of 60.5 percent in 2014 to 59.2 percent in 2015.
Of course, the overall percentage of employees at a huge company like Microsoft isn't the only important picture. Where decisions are made, at leadership levels, is also an important aspect of diversifying Silicon Valley, and Microsoft touted some big changes.
"The percentage of women on our Senior Leadership Tema is now 27.2 percent, the highest it has ever been," wrote Houston. "The number of African-American/Black corporate vice presidents more than doubled this year, increasing from 1.3 percent to 2.9 percent," she continued. "When combining African-American/Blacks with Hispanic/Latino(a) executives who have joined the ranks of corporate vice president, that year-over-year number increases from 4.5 percent to 6.4 percent."
Houston also touted three female members of Microsoft's Board of Directors out of 11 total, compared to two out of 10 the previous year.
Women at Microsoft Slipping
But the company's diversity efforts slipped this year when it comes to women in the workforce. Acknowledging the problem, Houston wrote, "Despite these encouraging signs, we recognize that not everything is positive."
Overall, the number of women working at Microsoft has slipped from 36,765 employees in 2014, to 31,064 employees this year -- a dip in female representation at the company from 29 percent to 26.8 percent. And despite the addition of a woman to the company's board of directors, the percentage of women in leadership roles has remained stale, at 17.3 percent.
A Good Excuse?
Houston offered an excuse for the step backwards in female representation at Microsoft, though whether it's a good one is up for debate. "One area of our workforce representation that bears a specific note is that this year -- primarily due to the restructuring of our phone hardware business -- we experienced an overall decline in the percentage of women working at Microsoft worldwide," wrote Houston.
According to Houston, a higher percentage of production and factory jobs outside the U.S. involved in manufacturing and assembling phone hardware were held by women. That part of the business was severely cut back in July, as Latin Post previously reported, when Microsoft laid off 7,800 workers in its acquisition and restructuring of Nokia's assets.
"That was the main cause of the decline in female representation at Microsoft," wrote Houston. "In short, a strategic business decision made in the longer-term interests of the company resulted in a reduction of jobs held by female employees outside the U.S."
As PC World noted, however, Microsoft employs a smaller or equal percentage of women across all of its job categories, including retail, technical, and factory roles. "Put bluntly," wrote PC World's Blair Hanley Frank, "it seems like the phone hardware division that Microsoft acquired from Nokia and then subsequently downsized had a more gender diverse workforce than its remaining operations."
Houston seemed to anticipate this criticism, saying "Even with this explanation, I want to emphasize that we are not satisfied with where we are today regarding the percentage of women in our workforce. Our senior leaders continue to be deeply committed to doing everything possible to improve these numbers."
Houston said that Microsoft had upped its hiring of women from universities overall, as well as the number of women being hired into technical roles straight out of college. The percentage of female interns at Microsoft, Houston explained, was "also increasing steadily," up by a few percentage points over the previous year.
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