Diversity in Tech Jobs & the Travel Ban: What Happens Now?

Diversity in tech jobs has long been a challenge. Many tech companies often get flak for not doing enough, critics say, to improve the diversity of their workforce. But when the threat to diversity becomes real, too big to ignore, the industry can be counted on to stand up and let their voice be heard. 

More than 100 companies, including most of high-tech’s biggest names, joined a legal brief opposing President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban, arguing that it would give companies strong incentives to move jobs outside the United States. 

The Challenge for Diversity in the Tech Industry

Several factors are propelling Silicon Valley to the front lines of opposition to Mr. Trump. Some have been widely noted: The companies are often founded by and run by immigrants, which made the executive order on immigration offensive and a threat to their way of doing business. Tech companies frequently stress the importance of talent from other countries to their businesses. 

The brief, made available in full by The Washington Post, argues that the order not only “inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation,” but that “through its arbitrary and discretionary restrictions on entry, the Order makes it far more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire, and retain the world’s best employees.”  

In a swift stroke of fate, the executive order has impacted many lives; families are separated, and the employment status of foreign-born workers in America’s tech corporations hangs in the balance. 

The Travel Ban’s Effect on American Tech Jobs

What would happen to US tech jobs, which are projected to grow? According to the BLS, for example, “employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.” 

On the other side of the American border up north, Canadians see this as an opportunity to attract displaced workers and startup companies. Hopes are raised by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message on his Twitter account, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”  

Canada’s tech leaders also voiced their opposition, underscoring the importance of diversity. “This is pretty disgusting,” Wealthsimple’s Mr. Katchen said of the fallout from the U.S. executive order in an interview. “We feel strongly that it’s very non-Canadian, and we feel the need to come together to make a statement that diversity is core to what we do in the startup world.” 

What the US may potentially lose in terms of talent could be Canada’s gain. A door has opened for its highly competitive tech sector, which as reported last year, would boom with at least 218,000 tech jobs, but it lacks the people to fill these. Now, Canadian tech executives are moving to see how to leverage Trump’s travel/immigration orders in their efforts to attract overseas skilled workers. 

I think it’s really sad and horrible from a political landscape perspective, but very selfishly it’s an incredible opportunity,” said Dennis Pilarinos, a former Microsoft executive whose 22-person software startup in Vancouver, Buddybuild, is in hiring mode. “It’s a chance to welcome incredibly talented engineers who might not have otherwise considered roles in Canada.”

Likewise, Silicon Valley’s startup companies are considering moving their foreign-born workers to Canada, in the event of a new executive order – aimed at overhauling, among other things, the H-1B work-visa program that U.S.-based tech companies have long relied on to bring top foreign engineering talent into their ranks – gets signed.

Diversity Over Division

With the travel/immigration ban, the political divide has deepened. Already last month, many felt the country was more divided than ever, according to  the Pew Research Center. 

The latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Jan. 4-9 among 1,502 adults, finds little optimism that the country’s political divisions will subside any time soon: 40% expect the country to be about as politically divided in five years as it is today, while 31% think it will be even more divided; just 24% expect divisions to lessen. 

Other survey groups reported similar findings last year. One was that of a Gallup survey, which found that a new high of 77% of Americans perceived the nation as divided on the most important values. nly 21% perceived the nation to be united and in agreement on the most important values.

The same survey also found that 45% of Americans believed Donald Trump would do more to unite the US, while 49% of Americans believed he would do more to divide the country. That perception of him was highlighted by Time Magazine when it featured the president as its Person of the Year 2016 on its cover, referring to him as “President of the Divided States of America.”

The Need for Diversity in Tech Jobs

Where to now? For now, even as the White House faces a setback – a federal appeals court refused Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations – the future looks uncertain, specifically for diversity IT jobs. One thing is clear though. Many Americans still care and are not about to give up on diversity yet – not now, nor at any time in the future.

This is indeed a critical period for the nation – and a crucible of leadership for President Donald Trump. William Sloanne Coffin, Jr., an American Christian clergyman and long-time peace activist, once said: “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”