Technology giants have been lifting the curtains on the diversity statistics of their workforces recently and the pictures aren’t pretty: the overwhelming majority working at Facebook, Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn are male and white, or male and Asian.
But the good news is that the companies’ sudden transparency comes with new intentions to seek talent in a wider range of places and to help train students of color in computer sciences.
Facebook last week disclosed that 69 percent of its global workforce is male and that 57 percent of its U.S. workforce is white and another 34 percent Asian. Only 2 percent of its U.S. workers are African American and only 4 percent are Hispanic.
But before we get all hot under the collar, those percentages are almost identical to Google’s and LinkedIn’s and Yahoo’s. Google disclosed last month that 70 percent of its global workforce is male. Meanwhile, exactly 91 percent of employees are white or Asian at each of these three giants, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn. Yahoo is only a miniscule better at 89 percent. African Americans are 2 percent of employees at each of them. (see above chart for the percentage statistics of each company.)
And they all intend to change. “At Facebook, diversity is essential to achieving our mission. We build products to connect the world, and this means we need a team that understands and reflects many different communities, backgrounds and cultures,” said said Maxine Williams, Global Head of Diversity at Facebook
Google hired Oakland-based Kapor Center for Social Impact to help it figure out how to diversify its workforce and cultivate a pipeline of computer scientists and engineers starting at high schools. The Kapor Center and Google will also be organizing conferences about these issues.
Freada Kapor Klein, co-chair of Kapor and founder of Level the Playing Field Institute which attracts students of color to the sciences, looks upon the past several weeks’ disclosures by tech companies as a huge step forward.
“We are seeing nothing short of a seismic shift in our field. For years, tech leaders have perpetuated the myth that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy. Once we recognize it as a myth we can get down to the hard work of making the myth a reality,” she said.
Oakland’s social justice community may have gotten the whole conversation started. Back in the winter, Oakland groups held a huge hackathon, specifically inviting African American youth to participate, but open to anyone. Hundreds of middle school and high school and college youth attended, joined in groups and created dozens of apps. Mentors from the tech field were on hand to encourage them.
Oakland holds a plethora of organizations trying to diversify tech and bring young people from underrepresented demographics into the field close the digital divide: the Hidden Genius Project, YesWeCode, Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, Level the Playing Field are all based here – as well as the principals behind Pitch Mixer.
Google invested $500,000 in Oakland’s Hack the Hood program, which trains low-income youth of color in web design and coding skills, who then help small inner-city businesses get online by building them web sites.
Mitch Kapor, co-chair of Kapor Center who played a major role in the Oakland hackathon said after Facebook released numbers:
“Diversifying tech is not just good for underrepresented communities, it’s good for tech. We find that entrepreneurs tend to solve problems based on their lived experience. If Silicon Valley represents a narrow slice of society, we end up with a narrow band of solutions.”
Yea and nobody wants that.