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Tech sector hostile to LGBT workers, says study

by Sari Staver

Kapor Center for Social Justice Co-Chair Freada Kapor<br>Klein co-wrote a groundbreaking study that examined workplace bullying of LGBTQ<br>and other people of color employed in the tech sector. Photo: Sari Staver.
Kapor Center for Social Justice Co-Chair Freada Kapor
Klein co-wrote a groundbreaking study that examined workplace bullying of LGBTQ
and other people of color employed in the tech sector. Photo: Sari Staver.  

People who identify as LGBT are more likely than other underrepresented groups to leave jobs in technology because they experienced bullying and hostility.

That was one of the conclusions of a new first-of-its-kind national study analyzing the reasons why people voluntarily left their tech sector jobs. Sponsored by the Oakland-based Kapor Center for Social Justice, the "Tech Leavers Study," released April 27, surveyed a representative sample of more than 2,000 U.S. adults who have left a job in a technology-related industry or function within the last three years.

"People may think of Silicon Valley as a generally progressive place, but unexamined bigotry can still be pervasive," study lead author Allison Scott, Ph.D., the chief research officer at the Kapor Center, told the Bay Area Reporter in an emailed reply. "The fact that LGBTQ tech employees report workplace bullying and humiliation at these rates confirms and quantifies the ugly anecdotes that we've been hearing."

The study found that bullying and hostility affected all groups, but LGBTQ employees were affected most acutely, with 25 percent citing "rude and condescending behavior" and 24 percent saying they were publicly humiliated or embarrassed. For LGBTQ employees, being bullied was the strongest predictor of quitting due to unfairness, with 64 percent telling the researchers the experience contributed to their decision to leave their jobs.

The 27-page study found that workplace culture drives turnover, significantly affecting the retention of underrepresented groups and costing the industry more than $16 billion a year.

"Bullying and harassing LGBT people at work isn't just wrong â€" it's bad for business," stated Selisse Berry, founder and CEO of Out and Equal Workplace Advocates, in response to the study's findings. "The Tech Leavers Study proves what our country's largest corporations already know, that creating an inclusive culture allows companies to attract top talent, innovate, and makes our entire economy stronger."

Overall, the study found that nearly 40 percent of employees surveyed indicated that unfairness or mistreatment played a major role in their decision to leave their company, and underrepresented men were most likely to leave due to unfairness.

One in 10 women experienced unwanted sexual attention, according to the findings, while LGBT employees were most likely to be bullied and/or experience public humiliation.

"If LGBT people are being bullied at work, they aren't able to be as productive, creative, or connected to their role and their workplace," stated Berry. "How can our country be on the leading edge of technology if we're still functioning with a 1950s view of who is welcome in the workplace?"

According to the study, close to 80 percent of employees reported experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment; women from all backgrounds experienced/observed significantly more unfairness than men; and unfairness was more pronounced in tech companies than non-tech companies.

Underrepresented men and women of color experienced stereotyping at twice the rate of white and Asian men and women, the study found, with 30 percent of underrepresented women of color passed over for promotion.

Experiencing and observing unfairness was a significant predictor of leaving due to unfairness, and the more bullying experienced, the shorter the length of time that employees remained at their previous company, the study found.

In its conclusions, the study authors said that the "silver lining" in their findings is that companies "can take proactive steps to improve workplace culture and retain talent." They found that nearly two-thirds of tech leavers indicated that they would have stayed if their employer fixed its culture.

The study represents the "culmination of decades of experience" of the surveyed workers, said Freada Kapor Klein, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and co-chair of the center. "For many years, we were unable to get anyone's attention to the issues of diversity. This report is incredibly timely and important because if we don't accurately diagnosis the problems, we won't be able to craft effective solutions."

The study's key finding, she said, is that the tech sector "has a huge problem with a culture of disrespect."

A full copy of the Kapor Center's study can be downloaded at



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