The people most affected by the tech layoffs
So far, the current wave of tech layoffs has directly affected more than 153,000 people in 2023. But it’s had a disproportionate impact on women, people of color, and people in the United States on H1-B visas. Overall, these layoffs are a body blow to diversity in tech, not just slowing but actually reversing hard-won gains.
Of those who lost their jobs in the most recent round of layoffs, 45% were women—which doesn’t sound bad until you remember that less than a third of tech industry roles and less than a quarter of tech leadership roles are filled by women. Other underrepresented groups, especially Black tech workers, have also been impacted at outsize rates. And the layoffs have revealed cracks in an immigration system that hasn’t been overhauled since LISTSERV was born.
Women and people of color are more likely to have jobs perceived as expendable
Women and people of color aren’t being laid off at higher rates because we were dead-weight DEI hires in the first place. According to Sarah Kaplan, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Gender and the Economy, it’s because “the roles that historically underrepresented groups are hired into tend to be seen as the most expendable.”.
This includes less technical roles and ones perceived as less prestigious or farther from the product—like field and customer support, human resources, communications, and marketing. “Overall, definitely nontechnical roles are more affected, women are more affected,” Reyhan Ayas, a senior economist at Revelio Labs, told The Washington Post.
The rise of remote work during the pandemic allowed more women and people of color to enter the tech workforce because remote work made barriers like childcare and unaffordable housing within commuting distance of the office easier to overcome. At Meta, for instance, US hires for remote roles in 2022 were more likely to be people of color, while global hires were more likely to be women. But when companies make cuts, remote workers may be more likely to lose their jobs—they certainly feel more anxious about it, according to Harvard Business Review. Since companies often follow the “last in, first out” rule when determining which jobs to cut, recently hired remote workers—more likely to be women and people of color—are often the first to be laid off.
The reasons why roles seen as less technical and/or less prestigious tend to be stacked with representatives of underrepresented groups are manifold and complex, including structural barriers like historical access to education and economic resources, geographic location, social conditioning in school, and cultural and familial expectations. But the result is that industry-wide layoffs fall disproportionately on people who are already underrepresented in tech.
Our immigration system is failing H-1B visa holders
For foreign-born tech employees in the US on H1-B visas, a layoff isn’t just a job loss: it can uproot their entire lives, and their families’ lives. The H-1B visa program allows people with specialized skills who are sponsored by an employer to come to the US to live and work. H1-B visa holders can stay in the US for no longer than six years unless an employer sponsors their permanent residency (their green card).
The number of H-1B visas awarded is capped at 85,000, and big tech companies account for a hefty percentage of these, with nearly 70% of the visas going to people in “computer-related” roles. Because only a limited number of employment-based residency applications can be granted every year, people can wait decades for a green card, tying H1-B visa holders to the same employer for years and making them especially vulnerable in the event of layoffs.
When someone on an H1-B visa is laid off, they have 60 days to secure sponsorship with another employer or leave the country. “These visa holders have built lives here for years, they have a home, and children, and personal and professional networks that extend for years,” Linda Moore, president and CEO of TechNet, told WIRED. When the companies responsible for sponsoring most H1-B visas are the same companies laying off workers, the system fails the workers (and the companies) it exists to serve.
Part of the problem is we’re using a legacy system from the 80s. The H1-B system hasn’t changed substantially in more than 35 years, writes Anna Kramer for WIRED, but in those decades, the US has become a dominant presence in science and technology, a rise fueled in large part by foreign-born talent. The immigration system hasn’t evolved along with the reality of the industry, and that creates problems—not just for individuals, but for companies and the industry as a whole.
“Tech companies have invested decades and millions of dollars into lobbying for kinder rules and an increase in the number of visas available, and in sponsoring hundreds of thousands of workers,” writes Elliott. “Yet the process remains unchanged, and layoffs mean some skilled workers that companies may want to hire from competitors either now or in future will instead leave the country.” And that’s our loss.
A problem for everyone
The erosion of diversity in tech is a problem for everyone, not just individual members of underrepresented groups. “If you don’t have a diverse workforce, you’re going to get technologies that exacerbate inequalities in our society,” Kaplan told Fast Company, referring to technologies like AI-powered facial recognition or credit score assessment. “We should care that the tech sector is not diverse, because it’s creating technologies that shape our lives.”Tags: diversity, tech layoffs
It would be helpful if the role-based breakdown was more clearly explained. That is, underrepresented groups are disproportionately affected, and also roles which feature a greater percentage of underrepresented groups are also disproportionately affected.
So is the former strictly a result of the latter? Presumably not. Presumably underrepresented groups were disproportionately targeted for layoffs regardless of their role, and therefore representation within individual roles also became less diverse as a result of the layoffs. Right? That’s definitely a *far* stronger story and a more significant finding. But as written, this post doesn’t actually say that.
Instead the post is written in a way that makes it look like the problem could actually be the fact that women and minorities are, at tech companies, more often hired in personnel and support roles like HR and recruiting rather than in the core roles like engineering, and that those personnel roles are easier to replace. That’s a much older problem, and one that’s a lot easier brushed aside in frustrating and unsatisfying ways.
I’d be really interested in seeing the evidence showing that the problem is more systemic than that, though. Evidence showing that even within specific roles, protected classes are being systematically targeted. Because that’s would be a powerful “smoking gun” that makes this issue impossible to simply brush aside as mere statistics.
This is the only sensible response. Without such a breakdown we simply don’t know what happened.
This article implies “group x(race, sex, nationality, etc.) working in sector y (tech)are underrepresented and were disproportionally fired, therefore the motive is hatred towards group x (racism, sexism, Xenophobia, etc.)”. Of course we cannot draw that conclusion simply based on the number of people who work in that sector.
The best way would be to assess all individual cases and list the motive of their firing. Then you can make a pie chart of the motives. But this data is not available of course. Break down of roles and work experience would be beneficial. Perhaps the people fired had simply less experience and less significant roles.
First nobody said anything about hated, that’s a red herring. The issue is discrimination, and commonly one of unconscious bias. Nobody has to hate group x, just prefer group a, or have assumptions about a group that make them easier targets for a layoff. Further, there are whole stacks of systems that are at play here.
Second, you surely are aware that we will never get access to the “motives” for their firing. No company would do that, and if they did there is no way you could trust it as an accurate representation of why.
Let’s say a company said 15 people were let go for performance reasons, and let’s set aside for a moment the very real possibility that they’re straight up lying.
What were the performance standards they were being measured against? Who made the evaluation? Was there bias at play in the evaluation itself or the person evaluating?;
Just as one example, I’ve seen women pushed repeatedly into glue work, and then criticized in performance reviews for it, because they weren’t spending a greater percentage of their time on technical work.
So, even if we *had* that data it wouldn’t be meaningful.
Tyler. I live in a tech town.
There is a reason why facial recognition software was released & utterly failed to read the facial characteristics of any person other than white adult males. Today, in 2023, there are still serious problems with facial recognition.
It WOULDN’T have happened, if at the startup, women and minorities were included in this all encompassing, universal, project.
IN COLLEGE – Women & minorities, even in college, were iced out when it came to startup formation. Selectively. Even in college.
There’s always one/two GUYS who’s the money GUYS. Who can successfully talk investors into a project. Those DUDES pick the team. They pick the friends they LIKE. Women & minorities were always treated as outsiders in college. They did not make the cut in the big, universal projects. Hardcore misogyny.
WOMEN were less successful presenting to investors… because there is a level of misogyny in investors, too. If a woman of color presents a singular power universal idea vs a white dude…🤷🏻♀️ It’s selective.
The next level – Since the universal ideas were being iced out – designing next-level projects that actually catered to, and designed for the true majority of the United States population (which includes women AND minorities) are also less invested, because the appearance is of “a boutique” idea.
Which is then bought out & absorbed by the white owned companies. In the early days… many were just CUT OUT from their project. Little shop piracy.
Here’s one little story from my little tech town.
I will never forget – the ONE woman I saw in the ’90s – at Google – who likely could code & formulate ideas better than her coworkers (because, in the 90s, to get hired as a woman in tech you had to be a freaking monster machine at the top of one’s class) – was finally invited to go to working lunch with a whole hoard of her male tech coworkers. The team working on a particular project.
I never saw a more ridiculous, disgusting, scene of icing out the female coworker. EVER.
They all got on their phones and conducted the meeting privately by text, the woman was iced out, not part of the group text.
When she realized what was going on I’ve never seen anybody look so demoralized. They were literally boycotting her presence.
FAKKING MISOGYNISTS. The people who perform the most on a team are the ones that are elevated. It’s competitive. Women not included.
We see comments that the immigration system fails the h1b holders and the companies but why do companies fail to help develop homegrown talent vs constantly looking abroad? The same highly paid talent can apply via one of the investment visa programs and have real skin in the game vs being on an employee visa
I’m sorry but as a US Citizen who can’t find a tech job I could give a flying rat’s patootie about H1B visa holders. In fact, I receive recruitment emails specifying H1B only for US jobs, which is patently illegal. Fat chance you’ll publish this since it doesn’t fit your narrative.
Well, they published it. You’re 100% wrong in almost every possible way, but at least your ignorance hasn’t been suppressed, amirite?
“Tech companies have invested decades and millions of dollars into lobbying for kinder rules and an increase in the number of visas available”
The reason tech companies have done that is to abuse the H1B system. They can hire from overseas and better exploit the workers they do hire and replace domestic workers – even women and people of color. The H1B worlers are a captive work force fir the company. H1B was for hard to fill talent. Thst is not how tech companies used it.
“But it’s had a disproportionate impact on women”
Funny how different people can look at the same data and draw opposite conclusions.
Men and women are roughly 1:1 ratio in society.
If 45% of the people fired are women it is men who are disproportionally affected, not women.
It it said “it’s had a disproportionate impact on women who work in tech” it would be accurate.
“The erosion of diversity in tech is a problem for everyone, not just individual members of underrepresented groups.”
As an engineer I think that there would be an optimal ratio of men to women in certain professions(depending on many factors). Maybe that ratio is not 1:1 and artificially trying to get it close to 1:1 will be counter productive. I think this wave of layoffs shows that we probably were past the ideal ratio.
Diversity should never be a goal and neither should anti-diversity, let the chips fall where they may and accept the results.
The article clearly states that 45% is large because women are already underrepresented in the industry (less than a third of tech industry jobs are held by women).
If Johnny has 10 marbles and 1 of them is red while the other 9 are blue, and Johnny throws away one red marble and two blue marbles… 33% of the lost marbles are red, and 66% of the lost marbles are blue.
Oh no! A big loss for the blue marbles! That is… until you realize that 100% of the red marbles were lost, and only 22% of the blue marbles were lost.
Please read my comment before replying.
The article reads:
“But it’s had a disproportionate impact on women, people of color, and people in the United States on H1-B visas”
And I wrote:
“If it said “it’s had a disproportionate impact on women WHO WORK IN TECH” it would be accurate.” (emphasis added)
So my first paragraph was factually accurate. No need for a marble analogy.
C, I think you drew your conclusion before you finished processing what the statistic was saying.
If 33% of people in the workforce are women, then you would expect a randomly chosen group of laid-off people to be 33% women. 45% is greater than 33%. Therefore it is disproportionately women who are laid off.
Nacht, I think you drew your conclusion before you finished processing what my comment was saying.
The article reads:
“But it’s had a disproportionate impact on women, people of color, and people in the United States on H1-B visas”
And I wrote: “If it said “it’s had a disproportionate impact on women WHO WORK IN TECH” it would be accurate.” (emphasis added)
So my first paragraph was factually accurate.
What C says is correct IMO.
The H1B visa program has been detrimental to America. Typically, we do not attract the most talented individuals through this program; instead, we tend to receive those who have paid their way into the system. Additionally, even if the H1B holders were exceptional, their spouses may not be equally qualified, yet they are granted work permits. Therefore, I propose a complete cessation of the H1B program for at least five years. Instead, the government should establish specialized training centers to supplement college degrees. That’s the only way America can get back to the top.
If your heart surgeon comes from India and has done 1,000 surgeries but your other heart surgeon comes from Ohio and has done 10 which one would you want?
What’s the survival rate for each? Horrible way to choose a contractor too,
Neither, I lost my job and can not afford cobra and will take the risk of having a heart attack. I was working for a self-insured company and have exceeded the deductible limit every year. It’s too easy for me to say I was laid off for age discrimination, but if I look at the obvious evidence of my peers who were also laid-off, I have more reason to believe the company was cutting costs by shedding the “unhealthy” expensive care employees.
I will have to agree with ME (to a certain degree). I may not trust either because a foreign professional can have difficulty communicating (communication is very often overlooked and so vital). When kids are going through country-wide standard tests to get to a decent college just to get a typical 9 to 5 job, it tells me the government should prioritize offering more opportunities to their own citizens.
ME’s other point is also valid, an immigrant can bring their whole family to the States and they can very well be not skilled. Lots of people had a hard time getting a job and stagnate economy. This is not just H1B but a problem in general.
In a long term, an advanced country should educate their own citizens to fill nearly all jobs, with a supplementary immigration program to attract the absolute top talents around the world.
Interesting response. There are government retraining centers. They are called Community Colleges. Not being glib. Many offer certificate courses which provides training and credentialing. I am retired now but even after getting an MBA from a state university my 6 month programming program got me a job and career.
Not only is the H1B program pay-into, but it also gives the employee ZERO negotiating power, as he is completely tied to the company and if anything goes wrong must go straight back home. Imagine being in that situation.
This comment section is… yikes
In other news, layoffs of nurses and teachers also disproportionately affect these same demographics – I wonder why?
Just so I’m clear, the vast majority of people laid off have been white males then? Got it.
In my computer science classes, there were about 2 girls and 30 guys. In my graphic design classes, (and in college overall) there were more women than men. If both genders must be hired equally, will 28 guys be unable to find a job because only 2 girls are available to keep the ratio 50/50? That would seem tremendously unfair to guys in general.
I remember choosing IT specifically because there was demand and it paid decently, for having a family later. When I found my job difficult, my wife looked at me with disdain for having chosen a career out of necessity instead of passion. Perhaps both sexes do not have the same motivations and pressures to choose jobs with the same outcomes.
If 45% of layoffs are women and 55% are men, what were the ratios before? 5% / 95%? 50% / 50%? It’s difficult to understand with precision what the article is saying. Alternative titles : “Most women aren’t interested in working in tech’s core business”, “Applicants to tech jobs don’t match up 50/50”, “Most men are under pressure to have high-paying jobs, but most women are free to choose a more interesting and less stressful career path : how this plays out during economic downturns”.
Playing devil’s advocate here. It’s tough to know what is really playing out from one statistic: this is a multi-variate problem. But I doubt anyone is complaining that there are 67% women in graphic design, even if more men are actually interested in becoming designers than women.
It boils down to motivation.
They wouldn’t post my original comment… So I’ll make this one nicer. If I have to make some painful layoffs of course the last people to go are the ones who build the core product (the engineers). Suggesting that the tech industry is misogynist or racist I find to be very far fetch. I think we all have awesome colleagues that are women and not white. The real question is why some minorities and women aren’t attracted to coding as much as other groups. I also want to add that I’m often the minority on the team because I have a US passport…
45% were women. So you can also conclude 55% were men? Sounds pretty fair to me. Let’s focus on getting back to work. The workplace is a fairer and more diverse place than it has ever been. Layoffs are a natural business cycle and you have to accept that if you choose to join these industries.
“Tech companies have invested decades and millions of dollars into lobbying for kinder rules and an increase in the number of visas available, and in sponsoring hundreds of thousands of workers,”
I very much doubt that the tech companies pushing for these “kinder rules” and an “increase in the number of visas available” are doing it out of some deep sense of compassion or social responsibility. They’re doing it because it’s in their (and their investors’) financial self-interest to have a larger labor pool at their disposal. Those tech companies will gladly hire those workers, and then lay them off as soon as they’re considered an expendable drag on the bottom line.
Yes this also happened to me in norway, but it was very clear to me who was kept and who was tossed away. All the woman were laid off except the HR REP who had to lay people off. And the bosses kept the employees closest to them, friends.
I suspect when layoffs happen some decisions are rushed. They might get only a few hours to select one or two persons to keep in a big team. The ones they know well are kept, friends and people who speak up or have prestigeous roles. They dont have time to interiew the team to find out about shadow work.
If 45% of the ones that are fired are women that often means that all women from the company are cut. Which is not correct
> Of those who lost their jobs in the most recent round of layoffs, 45% were women—which doesn’t sound bad until you remember that less than a third of tech industry roles and less than a quarter of tech leadership roles are filled by women.
The article should have spent more time in explanation here, because 45% really doesn’t sound bad. In fact, it could even sound good — it’s less than half. It’s just hard as a reader to understand why it’s a problem even if, as instructed, we “remember that less than a third of tech industry roles … are filled by women”.
Starting off in confusion about the statistic that is the foundation of the piece, kind of kills it, unfortunately.
Not absolutely sure what conclusions to draw from especially knowing the ratios were low from the start..
The proportion/ratio of the folks left standing after the layoffs vs the proportion of folks hired after? Also, other factors such as which positions are essential or needed to be kept/maintained and proportion of those jobs to be filled after by HR.. either from here or from aboard.