Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) in 2016. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The technology sector is the vanguard of innovation, but it still looks like a good ol’ boys network.

Not only is it made up overwhelmingly of white men, but the percentage of tech workers who are black decreased in recent years, while the portion of women in the industry was stagnant and the level of Hispanic workers was nearly flat.

A new report by Washington’s chief watchdog says federal agencies can help change that by doing more to diversify the technology sector.

That sector, like many others, clearly needs help.

Using employment data from 2007, 2011 and 2015, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that the percentage of black workers declined from 9 to 7.7 over that period

Movement of women stood still at 22 percent. Hispanic percentages were down and up, but not significantly, hovering around 7.5.

Asian workers were the only group making significant progress, moving from 11.5 percent of the technology workforce in 2007 to 15 percent eight years later. White workers, as always, maintained an overwhelming advantage with about 7 in 10 technology jobs, although decreasing from 71.2 percent to 67.7 percent during the 2007-2015 period. Compared to their portion of the general population, about 31 percent, white men are vastly overrepresented in the tech sector, with 53.5 percent of the jobs.

The report released Thursday was requested two years ago after “reviewing the startling lack of racial and gender diversity and the many documented reports of the hostile racial and gender environment in the tech sector,” said a statement from Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.), the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “The fact is there is bias in the recruitment, hiring and retention of Black, Hispanic and women workers in the tech sector. Decades of research show diversity is good for innovation and for the economic bottom line. Diversity and inclusion must not be treated as an aspiration; it is the law.” 

Both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) have a “mission … to combat discrimination and support equal employment opportunity for U.S. workers,” GAO said.

Here’s the but: “Weaknesses in their processes impact the effectiveness of their efforts.”

That’s government blather for they’re not getting the job done.

Both agencies “have taken steps to enforce equal employment and affirmative action requirements in the technology sector, but face limitations,” according to GAO. “While EEOC has identified barriers to recruitment and hiring in the technology sector as a strategic priority, when EEOC conducts investigations, it does not systematically record the type of industry” and other information “that could be used to more effectively focus its limited enforcement resources and outreach activities.”

Federal contract compliance regulations allow companies to lump together people who are not white for reporting purposes. I think that’s pretending everyone who is not white is just one other color, the “of color” race. “Regulations do not require federal contractors to disaggregate data for the purpose of determining placement goals for hiring,” in GAO’s words. This could hinder contractor “efforts to implement effective AAPs (affirmative action programs), which are designed to assist the company in achieving a workforce that reflects the gender, racial and ethnic profile of the labor pools from which the contractor recruits and selects.”

There are several reasons for the low representation of blacks, Hispanics and women in the tech sector. “These include the lower diversity of degree earners in technology-related fields, and company-based factors such as hiring practices and retention of women and underrepresented minorities,” GAO said.

“Two researchers told us that women often have the academic preparation to enter into technology-related degree programs, but they may choose not to pursue such degrees because of instances of gender bias within technology classes. Our prior work reported on studies that found women leave STEM fields at a higher rate than their male peers, citing one study that found women leave STEM academic positions at a higher rate than men in part due to dissatisfaction with departmental culture, faculty leadership and research support.”

GAO’s findings are “disappointing but not surprising,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), co-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Diversity Task Force. “The findings reinforce what we have known for some time — that when it comes to diversity and inclusion of African Americans, the tech industry has gone from making some progress toward losing ground.”  

A statement from Scott’s office said the report “confirms that the glass ceiling for women and people of color has yet to be cracked within the leading technology companies. … Moreover, in the past decade, within the leading technology companies, Black workers have actually lost ground across the spectrum of jobs from senior management to mid-level management to professionals to technicians.” 

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Diversity Task Force, sounded pessimistic, but determined, when she warned: “By 2020, 1.4 million new jobs will be available in the tech industry. If current trends persist, communities of color will continue to be locked out of these opportunities.

“That simply must change.”

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