Diversity: Microsoft takes one step forward, two steps back

The number of minorities, and women in tech roles, increased, but it lost 2% of its female workers

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
November 24, 2015
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Let's be honest here: as much as we all want the diversity problem in tech to be solved, and I assume the companies themselves want to solve it as well, if only so they won't be asked about it anymore, it's not going to happen overnight. In fact, it's going to be a roller coaster, with highs and lows. For every step that gets taken forward, it will be two steps back. That's simply how it is going to play out over whatever number of years.

Look at Microsoft, which has put out its new diversity report. While there was good news, including increases among minorities, there was one glaring problem in the report when it came to women. 

The percentage of women working at Microsoft fell over two percent year to year, from 29 percent to 26.8 percent, the company revealed. The reason for that being the restructuring of its phone hardware business, which CEO Satya Nadella announced in July.

That decision impacted factory and production facilities outside the U.S., which were producing handsets and hardware, and a higher percentage of those jobs were held by women.  

"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.," Gwen Houston, General Manager, Global Diversity & Inclusion, wrote.

"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."

Yet, even in the category of women, Microsoft made some gains, with the percentage of university hires growing from 27.7 percent to 30.6 percent. Also, the number of women being hired into technical and engineering roles from universities increased to 26.1 percent, up from 23.7 percent.

Now only that, but women on the Senior Leadership Team now stands at 27.2 percent, the highest it has ever been. So, some progress, mixed in with some unfortunate news.

When it came to racial minorities, the company seemed to fair better, but still has a long way to go. In the U.S., the percentage of African-American/Black hires from universities coming into technical roles is now 3.3 percent, compared to only 2.5 percent last year.

For Hispanic/Latino(a) hires, it is 5.1 percent, up from 4.9 percent. So African Americans saw bigger gains, but Hispanics still have a much higher percentage. And there is room for much improvement on both fronts.

And when it comes to leadership roles, the numbers are even worse.

The number of African-American/Black corporate vice presidents more than doubled this year, increasing from 1.3 percent to 2.9 percent. 

If you combine both groups together, the percentage of executives increases to 6.4 percent, up from 4.5 percent.

"Taken as whole, I would characterize our efforts to improve workforce representation as showing signs of promise, with much more committed work still to do. In a company the size of Microsoft, making dramatic changes in terms of our overall workforce composition is an undertaking that cannot be over-stated," said Houston.

"Our cultural transformation will not take place overnight. It will take steadfast commitment, accountability, targeted actions – and time."

Honestly the fact that we're talking about this at all, and that so many tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, have all felt the need to disclose them, are both signs that things are improving. They are doing more than simply walking the walk.

Now I want to know when they are going to start solving the ageism problem as well. 

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