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When a $200,000 Tech Salary Just Isn't Worth It

A new study cites 'unfairness' as the leading factor in why people bail from tech jobs.

Tech worker salaries and benefits are the stuff of lore. Start with a $200,000 salary—a rough average for Silicon Valley engineers—and throw in catered meals, on-site massages, Yoga classes, and regularly replenished IV drips of only the most youthful blood. It sounds pretty sweet, but turnover is nonetheless a problem for tech companies. That's how we wind up with benefits packages including such perks as wish-granting genies in the first place.


So, why do people leave these theoretically cush jobs? What are the motivations of "tech leavers"? This is what a new study, billed as the first of its kind, by the Ford Foundation and the Kapor Center for Social Impact set out to better understand. More than anything else, survey respondents cited unfair treatment and out and out mistreatment. This was most widely reported by men of color, with women of all backgrounds experiencing significantly more unfairness than men of all backgrounds. According to the study, this unfairness costs the tech industry nearly $16 billion annually, not including so-called reputational costs.

The study took 2,006 tech or former tech employees that have voluntarily left a job in the past three years. 63 percent of respondents were male, and 75 percent were white. 91 percent were straight. While a bit optimistic, this is roughly representative of industry demographics as a whole.

In summary:

While employees from all backgrounds experienced unfair treatment in their previous workplace, it is clear that employees from underrepresented and diverse backgrounds faced unique challenges. While White and Asian men and women were most likely to experience unfair management practices which had to deal with day-to-day employment experiences like work assignments, underrepresented groups experienced much more negative treatment specific to their racial/gender backgrounds (stereotyping and sexual harassment). Bullying and hostility affected all groups, which suggests these behaviors are more indicative of a toxic workplace culture, but LGBTQ employees were affected most acutely.

Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed said that unfairness was a major factor in their decision to leave a tech job. Specifically, bullying and stereotyping were the experiences uncovered as the largest predictors of leaving a job due to unfairness.

Setting aside basic matters of just not being shitty to fellow humans, this is an expensive problem. According the study, each left job costs an average of $144,000 to fill. That's where the $16 billion figure comes from.

"It will take strong commitments from leadership, buy-in at all levels, and consistent monitoring of the effectiveness of solutions to shift cultures, enhance diversity and inclusion, and create fair environments for all employees to thrive," the study concludes. "Addressing underrepresentation in tech must start first with these hard cultural changes within companies."