Image Description: An aerial shot of Apple Park shows the circular building in the dim light of the bright pinks and blues of an overcast day in Silicon Valley.
As of March 2023, announcement after announcement of more tech company layoffs in Silicon Valley fills the news headlines.
A live tracker indicates that the current count already for the year is 123,882 employees laid off from 454 tech companies–and counting.
This is a troubling start that seems ready to surpass the 2022 layoff total of 161,061 employees from a more widespread number of 1,047 tech companies.
Currently, a picture is circulating the web of Esther Crawford, a former Twitter employee who posted a snapshot on social media last year of her sleeping bag on the office floor as she prepared for an overnight session due to long hours. Despite her dedication to the job, Esther Crawford was recently a member of the latest wave of tech layoffs.
A lawsuit initiated at the end of 2022 asserted that Elon Musk’s actions have disproportionately affected women employees. In addition to the anecdotal data of women at Twitter reporting a hostile environment where they felt like they had a target on their backs, the quantitative data tells the same story of women experiencing a harsher blow in the continual tech company layoffs.
After Musk assumed ownership of Twitter, 57 percent of female employees fell victim to tech layoffs compared to only 47 percent of male employees. This disparity was even further exaggerated in stereotypically male-dominated fields with Musk laying off 63 percent of Twitter’s female engineers compared to 48 percent of the company’s male engineers.
For Meta, the tech company layoffs included predominantly minority women in 2022 while Meta simultaneously boasted robust diversity and inclusion efforts.
Last year, with 37.1 percent women representation among the company's employees, 6.7 percent Hispanic representation, and 4.9 percent Black representation compared to 37.6 white representation, Meta had announced a goal of doubling representation in the company of Black and Hispanic employees and increasing the representation of women employees by 2024.
It is unclear how Meta plans to achieve this goal while targeting minority women predominantly in each wave of tech company layoffs.
The news that minorities make up the larger portion of the people affected by the recent tech layoffs should not come as a surprise.
Diversity has long been lacking in the tech industry. Only recently have diversity and inclusion measures worked to create a foothold for minorities within Silicon Valley to have a place at the table to add value. The current tech company layoffs are undoing diversity progress.
As a point of note, the primary factor that influences an employee’s vulnerability to tech layoffs is not performance but tenure. Tech companies have been implementing an approach termed “last in, first out” (LIFO) where newer employees are more likely to be let go.
This is what happens with the LIFO trend. The 4.1 percent increase from 2019 to 2022 of women representation in senior management at Meta creates a group of employees with limited tenure at the company who are making significant incomes. Both of these factors make them likely to be affected by tech company layoffs.
In comparison, white male senior management is likely to have a far longer tenure at the company, and while this population is at risk of being cut due to income level, connections within the company grant these individuals more security against the waves of tech layoffs.
The end result is that companies like Meta are self-sabotaging their diversity and inclusion efforts and returning to organizational homogeneity.
Many minority professionals have been affected by the tech layoffs. The following sections will provide information on potential steps for minority tech professionals to take while job-seeking in Silicon Valley.
As mentioned earlier, the unique trend in the mass tech company layoffs this year is that the majority of employees being let go are from a more concentrated number of tech companies with big names such as Meta, Twitter, and Amazon.
Despite Big Tech companies struggling to stay afloat in Silicon Valley, the tech job market is still strong. The number of employees affected by the tech layoffs is a mere fraction of the overall number of tech employees in the US.
What is happening is arguably not an overall tech job market decline but the concentrated crash and burn of Big Tech.
In fact, in 2022, a ZipRecruiter survey found that 37 percent of tech workers affected by last year’s layoffs had secured a new position within one month and 79 percent had secured a new position within three months.
Recognizing the volatility of employment in Big Tech currently, minority job seekers in Silicon Valley would do well to search for employment in smaller organizations.
Considering that many Big Tech companies with predominantly white male management are disproportionately letting minority employees go, job seekers would benefit from researching trends in tech company layoffs in smaller Silicon Valley companies as well as looking for companies with minority representation in upper management.
Despite the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley in many organizations, several minority- and women-owned tech businesses have risen to the fore. One example in Silicon Valley is CodeSee, founded by Shanea Leven.
Alongside news stories of companies like IBM laying off thousands of employees are announcements that 300 firms–including IBM, Nike, and AirBnB–are pledging to increase organizational Latino/a representation in a movement termed the Hispanic Promise 2.0.
With Meta as a cautionary tale, minority job seekers can recognize that a company’s claimed dedication to diversity and inclusion can mean very little.
With a first in, first out (FIFO) approach common in Silicon Valley, minority employees are at risk in any organization of being targeted for the next round of tech layoffs.
Many companies will publicly post their hiring demographics but avoid transparency regarding minority retention numbers.
The true question to ask is how many minority employees are being retained in companies throughout the tech company layoffs, and the answer to this question may require some digging.
While many discussions of hiring explore the cost from the hiring organization’s perspective, few discussions look at the time and money cost of applying to positions from the job seeker’s perspective.
Subscription fees for job boards, many hours a day spent applying and interviewing for positions, child care for time spent on job searches, transportation costs–these all add up.
For minority professionals, socioeconomic disadvantages that span generations tend to mean less of a family financial cushion to fall back on if things go awry in the job market. Minority professionals who have navigated upward wealth mobility may also find that they have more extended family members dependent on them for financial support than their white counterparts.
Minority professionals are in a more precarious position when selecting a new job, and these professionals are being heavily impacted by tech company layoffs. A job search is an investment, and accepting a position at a Big Tech company only to be promptly let go a month later can have devastating financial effects.
Some job seekers may be more hesitant to accept a position at a smaller tech company in Silicon Valley, believing that a big name equals security. However, this perception of Big Tech clearly does not hold true for minority professionals.
In fact, the cost put into obtaining a position at a smaller organization with significant minority executive representation might be a better investment in the long run.
Big names of Big Tech behemoths can evoke excitement in tech professionals. However, belongingness is often absent at companies like Twitter and Meta where employees outside of the cishet white male standard felt pressured to sacrifice their health and to put in an excruciating number of hours on the job in a hostile environment. For ethnoracial minorities especially, accepting a job opportunity is always a risk as it involves an investment that could fall through for professionals who are less likely to have a generational financial cushion to fall back on. On the bright side, the tech job market is still strong. Moving forward, minority professionals would do well to consider carefully any job offers by Big Tech, to research minority retention numbers at companies, and to also explore job openings at smaller minority-owned companies in Silicon Valley.
Marion Davis is a contributing writer at EmployDiversityNetwork.com. She is a disabled DEIA consultant and writes on the value of diversity and inclusion across multiple industries, specifically as relates to disability and intersectionality.