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Tech industry employees: We have a diversity problem?

A new report from Atlassian shows a gap between the perception and reality of diversity in tech.

A new survey shows the tech industry thinks it's more diverse than it actually is.
Yuri Arcurs Peoplelmages.com, Getty Images

If the first step is admitting you have a problem, the tech industry might be further behind than we thought.

An overwhelming majority of tech employees -- 94 percent -- say their teams, companies and the industry overall get passing grades for trying to create diverse workforces, a result that flies in the face of corporate transparency reports that find Silicon Valley overwhelming white and male.

In a study published by business software maker Atlassian on Wednesday, 83 percent of the 1,400 tech employees surveyed said their companies were already diverse and 79 percent said teams at their companies had a diverse membership.

The survey comes amid an industry-wide conversation about the lack of diversity in tech, a situation that's confirmed by reports from big companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, showing low workforce diversity numbers. Atlassian found just 2 percent of the tech workforce is black and 3 percent Hispanic.

"We've raised awareness of the issue but haven't deepened understanding of the core problem," Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian, said in an interview.

Atlassian is the latest group to quantify the slow progress the industry has made in hiring and promoting minorities, as well as women, who make up less than 30 percent of the industry's technical roles. Deeper statistics, such as those on minority women, often aren't even available.

A December study from early stage investment firm First Round Capital showed just 14 percent of startup founders surveyed said their companies had formal plans or policies for diversity and inclusion. Men surveyed by First Round were likely to attribute low diversity numbers to a lack of available minority candidates rather than bias during hiring and promotion.

Despite all that, more than half of the respondents to the Atlassian survey didn't think their company needed to make improvements.

Sixty percent of respondents said efforts made by their companies to cultivate more inclusive workforces was enough. Another 48 percent said their companies had great diversity, while 20 percent said their company's workforce reflected a meritocracy with employees being treated equally based on skill and potential. Finally, 19 percent see their company as having an inclusive culture.

(The total adds up to more than 100 percent because respondents were allowed to write in multiple responses.)

Eighty-three percent said diversity and inclusion are important, while 84 percent said their colleagues also support diversity in the workplace.

In addition to basic fair play, diversity will prove increasingly important to the US tech industry, which is facing more than a half million in projected open jobs. The US isn't producing enough computer science professionals to fill those jobs, meaning the industry needs tech talent from all groups.

In addition, studies from places like the Harvard Business Review show that diverse teams drive innovation and stave off group think. A more diverse team will also better represent a company's customers.

Before that happens, it seems there's a lot of work to be done to persuade tech workers that there's even an issue address.

"It's the everyday people who make the tech industry what it is and company cultures what they are," Blanche said. "If we ever want to build truly inclusive cultures, we need everyone -- not just execs -- on board."

Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.