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How to empower under-represented groups during layoffs in tech

Woman being laid off with her box of possessions

ARTICLE SUMMARY

After rapid hiring at the start of the pandemic, tech companies have been letting employees go at staggering rates lately, and there’s no sign of the trend slowing down.

But one disturbing — though not surprising for many — pattern has emerged, which is that marginalized groups are bearing the brunt of the tech layoffs.

Women and minorities in tech are generally underrepresented, yet they’re vastly overrepresented when it comes to being fired. Improving tech diversity starts with being discerning when laying off employees.

In this article, Shannon Flynn, Managing Editor of IoT, security and tech trends at ReHack Magazine, looks at how to maintain diversity in a time of layoffs and how to strengthen underrepresented workers.

THE ROLES OF MINORITIES AND WOMEN IN TECH

One reason minorities and women in tech are more likely to face tech layoffs is that they tend to work in nontechnical departments, including customer service, communications, marketing and business development. Many businesses view these roles as less essential than others, so it’s a common place to start downsizing. For comparison, women and ethnic minorities represent only 12% of the cybersecurity department, which most companies see as a critical sector.

Why do men tend to occupy more crucial roles? The fact that a mere 38% of women who majored in computer science worked in the tech field as of 2018, compared to 53% of men, suggests something more than just preference is at play. The numbers are even lower for minorities, with Hispanic women representing just 1% of the workforce in 2015.

Discrimination in the workplace often makes people uncomfortable staying in the computer science field and leads to lower tech diversity. Marginalized groups who do stay in tech are less likely to receive promotions, making it harder for them to advance in their careers. When it comes to tech layoffs, occupying a lower-ranking company position means having a higher chance of being fired.

EMPOWERING MARGINALIZED GROUPS DURING TECH LAYOFFS

How can companies maintain tech diversity, reduce bias and strengthen underrepresented workers in an age of mass layoffs?

ALLOW REMOTE WORK

Many companies that allowed employees to work from home during the pandemic are now requiring people to come back to the office. This decision disproportionately affects women, who are more likely to occupy caregiving roles than men. Allowing remote work makes it easier for women to perform their jobs well and on time while caring for children or older relatives.

IMPROVE DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION (DEI)

Promoting the fair treatment of all employees, regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, nationality or gender, is known as the DEI framework. Employers should focus on DEI during the hiring process by using inclusive language and appealing to underrepresented groups.

After hiring, it’s just as vital to keep promoting the equitable treatment of all employees. Workers should participate in regular DEI training to ensure they understand the key principles of treating people fairly.

Improving workplace diversity, equity and inclusion strengthens collaboration among team members. Nearly 60% of executives said that increased collaboration helps identify and exploit new business opportunities.

DON’T RELY ON A “LAST HIRED, FIRST FIRED” POLICY

Many companies start the downsizing process by letting go of the people they hired most recently. Unfortunately, minorities and women in tech tend to occupy fewer senior positions, meaning this strategy disproportionately affects underrepresented groups.

Instead, employers should look through their entire workforce to identify who they should lay off — it won’t necessarily be the newest hire. In many cases, a strong work ethic and industry knowledge are more important than tenure.

GIVE EMPLOYEES SEVERANCE PACKAGES

Layoffs hit marginalized groups harder. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Black and Asian people spent longer amounts of time looking for work than other races. White people spent an average of 8.8 weeks looking for work in 2018, while Black and Asian people spent around 123% longer.

Employers should offer comprehensive benefits packages to laid-off workers. Severance pay can include a base pay rate, bonuses for seniority and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) health coverage for the next few months to ease the transition. It’s also helpful if employees can take their COBRA distribution all at once to cover any immediate needs.

MAINTAINING TECH DIVERSITY

Minorities and women in tech provide valuable contributions to the computer science field. Having robust tech diversity enriches a company, allowing people to bring new perspectives, ideas and skills to the table.

During tech layoffs, it’s crucial that employers recognize their own biases and not disproportionately fire underrepresented groups. Practices like improving DEI, allowing remote work and providing comprehensive severance packages help empower marginalized employees.

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