Silicon Valley: diverse group of workers
Silicon Valley has made strides towards diversity, but there's still quite a way to go

Silicon Valley tackles diversity problem, has a long way to go

20 Jul 2015

It’s something that was initially spoken about in almost hushed voices, but in recent years, as the issue has come more into the public eye, those hushed voices have become more of a shout: Silicon Valley has a diversity problem.

The area that gets the most attention is gender-based hiring. The Guardian published a report on sexism in Silicon Valley from earlier this year detailed the damning figures.

Only 11pc of Silicon Valley executives and 20pc of software developers are women. Only 53pc of Silicon Valley companies have a woman on the executive management team. Men in Silicon Valley companies earn up to 61pc more than women in the same companies and the same roles.

What is more often overlooked, however, is Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity when it comes to race.

Take a look at the cast of HBO’s Silicon Valley, widely considered to be an incredibly accurate depiction of the Silicon Valley environment.

That’s a lot of white men.

The only non-white characters that crop up with any regularity are Asian.

Information released today by The Washington Post shows that that casting is entirely representative of real-life Silicon Valley companies.

Silicon Valley, but in real life

When it comes to hiring for coveted positions at the California tech giants, says the Washington Post article, black and Hispanic candidates are grossly underrepresented.

Figures released by the companies themselves show that, when it comes to working in Silicon Valley, tech is still very much a white man’s game.

Yahoo!’s workforce is 2pc black and 4pc Hispanic. Google’s and LinkedIn’s figures are the same. Twitter brings up the rear, with 2pc black and 2pc Hispanic.

Remaining in line with Silicon Valley, the exception to the white-men-only rule is Asian candidates. At Facebook, for example, 41pc of staff is Asian.

Companies have historically blamed ‘the pipeline’ for churning out a workforce that’s predominantly white and male. They say that’s the demographic studying computer science and IT in college.

Prominent advocates for change, like Jesse Jackson, tell a different story, as do the figures:

According to the Washington Post, of those graduating from college with a BA in computer science, computer engineering or IT, 4.1pc were black and 7.7pc Hispanic – double the numbers these companies are hiring.

But if the pipeline isn’t the problem, what is?

The Washington Post intimates that Silicon Valley lays a lot of the blame at the feet of recruiters, who consistently turn to the same colleges for hires, ignoring historically black colleges and other avenues through which minority candidates could gain access.

This skews the pool from which employees are hired.

Heading in the right direction

Of course, not all tech companies are leaving the diversity problem untreated. Intel perhaps offers best practice in the industry. As of 2014, Intel boasted a staff of which 4pc of employees were black and 8pc Hispanic, fairly close to the graduate figures.

And they’re not content to leave it at that. The chip giant made waves earlier this year when it pledged to invest US$300m in diversity hiring, announcing its intention to have a workforce that is fully reflective of the pool of available hires by 2020.

Furthermore, US$5m of that US$300m was earmarked for computer programmes in an under-served Oakland, California, school district, ensuring that the pipeline would be well stocked.

Intel is no longer fighting diversity’s corner alone, though, and others are starting to take the issue seriously.

Facebook has in the past year, says The Washington Post article, announced expansions to its summer internship program for computer science majors, started a new internship program for minority business majors, and instigated a new rule requiring recruiters to interview minority candidates.

Google has begun embedding engineers at historically black colleges, giving students at those colleges the same mentorship opportunities afforded students at the colleges typically mined for staff.

Google, Facebook and Apple have all expanded the pool of colleges from which they recruit.

Perhaps, with a lot more hard work, Silicon Valley will be able to put the diversity issue to bed for good.

Main image, via Shutterstock

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Kirsty Tobin
By Kirsty Tobin

Kirsty Tobin served as careers editor of Silicon Republic from 2015 up to August 2017. When she was younger, she had a dream where she started and won a fight with a T-Rex, so she’s pretty sure she kicked butt at this, too. Passions include eating all the cake, watching more TV than is healthy and sassy comebacks.

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