Diversity Reports Only Mask Silicon Valley's Employment Problem

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2015-08-23 Print this article Print
Diversity Reports

What I'm talking about is that there are certain effects and risks associated with a fixation on diversity reports that could become the biggest threat to diversity itself.

What the Big Three Are Reporting

The diversity reports revealed that tech giants like Facebook, Apple and Google are only 30 percent female across the board. In tech and leadership positions, that percentage plummets into the teens or below. At Twitter, for example, only 10 percent of employees in technical positions are female.

Specific minority categories are radically under-represented. For example, just 3 percent of Facebook tech employees are "Hispanic" and this is in a state where Latinos recently became the majority. "Hispanic" is a linguistic distinction, whereas "Latino" is a geographic one.

Black employees in tech roles at major Silicon Valley companies typically range between 1 percent and 3 percent—clearly underrepresented to a massive degree. One columnist pointed out that all the black employees at Twitter, Facebook and Google could fit on a single airplane.

The other fact that jumps out is that people lumped into the "Asian" category are wildly over-represented in Silicon Valley. More than 40 percent of the tech employees at Facebook are "Asian" in a country where less than 5 percent of Americans identify as "Asian," according to the 2010 census.

It's true that the diversity pressure is paying off, and that the big tech companies are launching wide-ranging programs to increase the diversity of the tech-industry "pipeline," as Intel calls it—that is the people whose educational and work backgrounds will prepare them to work in technology.

But the fixation on diversity reports is potentially troubling, and here's why.

The Trouble With Diversity Reports

The whole issue of diversity in the tech industry is controversial in the extreme. So I'm going to make the following point as clearly and plainly as I can.

Diversity reports are problematic because they can incentivize companies to fix the numbers instead of the problem.

Let's start with the elephant in the living room—immigration and H-1B Visas. For the sake of full disclosure, I must acknowledge I'm personally in favor of Fwd.us's call to increase H-1B visas and opposed to Donald Trump's plan to reduce the currently allowed 65,000 slots available.

There are four facts about China and India that directly impact Silicon Valley diversity reporting. First, China and India are the two largest countries in the world with a combined population of 2.6 billion people.

Second, they both produce a higher percentage of women engineers and programmers than the United States does.

Third, engineering students in those countries covet U.S. university educations.

And fourth, workers from those countries fit into the "Asian" category in diversity reporting.

These four facts are part of the reason why there are 10 times more "Asian" employees at Silicon Valley firms than either "Hispanic" or "Black" employees. And they're also the reason why the actual diversity problem for women is far worse than is being reported in the diversity reports.


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