In 2020, the world watched the brutal and inhumane murder of George Floyd by police. The killing opened the eyes of many Americans, and just as protestors around the world took to the streets, workers began to pressure their employers for their support.
Many Big Tech companies and corporations answered the call-outs with financial pledges. In 2020, 217 tech companies pledged $508 million to racial equity, but no one tracked results on whether these giants have kept their word.
A research report called State of the Pledge, done by The Plug and the Blacks in Technology Foundation, has been tracking these promises for the past two years. The Plug is a digital news and insights platform covering the Black innovation economy. The goal is to highlight the efforts of companies in the technology industry while spotlighting the shortcomings of others, according to The Plug researchers.
“Initially, I had high hopes that we were going to see significant change with tech companies, or the tech industry overall,” said Tayler James, director of research for the Plug, said. “While conducting the report, I found myself extremely disappointed that two years later — after these commitments were made, a lot of progress wasn’t made.”
The Black population in the United States has grown by nearly 23 percent since 2000, and slightly more than 11 percent since 2010, according to the 2020 census. It found that roughly 14 percent of the American population – almost 50 million people – identify as African American.
Technology is also the fastest growing industry, according to State of the Pledge’s findings, with the most sought-after jobs. Despite the growing figures, Black professionals in Big Tech have increased by only 1 percent in the past seven years, despite the projected 13 percent growth the industry is expected to make.
“There are some companies that are doing the work.” James said, “They are pushing forward, they are living by their commitments, they fulfilled their commitments or had exceeded their commitments. There are companies that are putting in the effort, but others – they have made these blank statements and have gone on to other areas.”
PayPal, for example, pledged $535 million in June 2020 – the largest amount to date for diversity efforts. The company gave $15 million in grants to 1,400 Black-owned small businesses over the past two years and gave $5 million in partner grants to the top-20 leading nonprofits whose goal is to strengthen Black-owned businesses.
Ninety percent of the businesses that received grants stayed open during the pandemic, 73 percent maintained or grew their workforce, and 39 percent transitioned to digital commerce with the help of these grants.
“Not only did (Pay Pal) fulfill that, they were very strategic in how they allocated those funds,” James said. “They did support some of the major Black organizations, but they also went to some of the smaller ones and unique ones that don’t often get that type of funding but still are important. Those are the types of companies that we want to use as a model on how to really make change.”
However, other companies seem to have regressed. Despite Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s pledge of $175 million-plus package to support Black business owners with an additional $100 million from YouTube to fund Black creators, the company has recently been hit with racial discrimination lawsuits by former African-American employees. The company has yet to fulfill the pledge completely, but selected 76 Black founders for the $5 million Black Founders fund and distributed $12 million to racial justice groups, according to the company’s blog post.
Amazon is also an ongoing lawsuit with former employees for racial discrimination while Tesla was ordered to pay a former African American contract worker $137 million in a discrimination lawsuit – though the amount was lessened to $15 million.
“There are others who are still in the spotlight of discrimination against their Black employees to the result of lawsuits.” James said, “It’s just so unfortunate because we are important, we deserve to be here, we deserve to be represented, and it’s just time for the country and the world to catch up.”
The report also states that wages start 4 percent lower than the baseline for Black professionals with Black women in the tech industry making $946,120 less than white men over their lifetime. Black professionals also tend to be hired in lower-level positions and are often overlooked for promotions and higher-paying positions.
“That was another thing that we noticed within the report.” James said, “Some of the tech companies may have increased their Black employee workforce. However, they were only hiring at lower tier, and there wasn’t a lot of representation at managerial or leadership levels. Those are critical for decision making.”
State of the Pledge report also looked at educational disparities. It found that most schools where Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) was being used by more than 75 percent of the student body were also schools where science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes didn’t exist. Meanwhile, schools where FRL was used by less than 25 percent of students did have these courses available.
“It’s unfortunate because, while building this report, we noticed that the early exposure (to STEM) was limited in marginalized communities.” James said, “Even on the collegiate level, Black students that may have started within the STEM majors have a higher rate of dropping or switching their majors due to not having the foundation in their earlier years.”
She continued, “If they want to ensure that they have a diverse workforce in the future, it’s important that they really invest in public schools, invest in marginalized communities.”
James said it’s also important for consumers to be mindful of where they spend money.
“You make the decision: Is this a company that aligns with your values?” she said. “Is this a company that supports diversity across the board? If you’re spending your dollars with these companies, then you’re supporting and agreeing with what they have.”
As for The Plug and its research, she said, “We’re going to continue to dive deep, and potentially create annual reports on where the tech industry falls as far as diversity and inclusion.”