And why it's bad for business

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Unfairness-based turnover in the tech industry is a $16 billion a year concern. A recent U.S. study found that sexism, racism, toxic work environments, and bullying are driving talented people out of the tech industry in droves.

In a first-of-its-kind survey, the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll surveyed 2,006 people who had left a job within the technology industry in the past three years. The study was intended to determine some of the underlying reasons why so many tech workers voluntarily leave their jobs. The results were astounding, but not altogether unexpected.
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People leave jobs for a broad variety of reasons. Some may follow a desire for career advancement or improved pay conditions, while others may seek to pursue a  career path in a different industry.

However, research shows that the single largest factor for employment turnover across almost every industry was unfairness in the workplace.

“I am an Ivy League software engineer with 6 years of experience,” one African-American engineer told RPRNmag, “and I am constantly passed over for a promotion that should be mine but that end up going to a younger male.”

Almost 40% of the survey respondents indicated that unfairness or mistreatment within the workplace played a primary role in their decision to leave their jobs. A staggering 78% of employees surveyed reported that they had experienced some unfair behavior or treatment in their employment.

Female employees were significantly more likely to experience or observe a greater amount of unfair treatment as compared to their male counterparts. It was also noted that the level of unfairness was more pronounced within tech companies than within other industries.

Women of color, in particular, reported high rates of discrimination, with 30% of respondents admitting they felt passed over for promotions in their fields. Of the number of people who reported receiving unwanted sexual attention or harassment in the workplace, 57% also reported that the behavior contributed to their decision to leave their employment at that company.

“The culture was toxic. The CEO clearly lacked respect for women. Inappropriate remarks were made about women interviewing for roles in the case that the founder found them attractive. Inappropriate/sexual remarks about women were made in front of his female employees during off sites. (There was) tons of micro-management and lack of trust in the abilities of the women who worked for his company. After I left, all of the other women quit too. It was not a female-friendly company,” a Hispanic female Engineer said.

Responses from employees in the survey indicate that 62% of employees who left previous employment due to unfairness would have been happy to remain at the company if positive steps had been taken by management to create a fairer working environment.
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Despite the mounting evidence of unfair treatment of some employees within the tech industry, male executives continue to ignore complaints regarding discrimination and disparity. The result is an increasing tech staff turnover rate driven primarily by hostile work environments.

Addressing Unfairness in the Workplace

Diversity and inclusion strategies have the capacity to improve workplace culture at the same time as reducing employee attrition rates, but only if they’re done correctly.  Tech companies facing high employee turnover have the opportunity to improve retention rates by addressing unfair practices and implementing diversity strategies.

Implementing explicit diversity goals, a clear code of conduct and introducing unconscious bias training can significantly improve employee retention. Aside from improving workplace culture, tech companies may find that morale is improved, which reduces the likelihood of driving talented staff out the door.

Diversity also helps promote a working environment that fosters innovation and productivity, both of which have the ability to save tech companies billions of dollars in rehiring and retraining costs.

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