Silicon Valley Failed To Think Different
Bloomberg Businessweek|August 10, 2020
Silicon Valley Failed To Think Different
Tech companies’ mostly White workforce reflects years of broken promises on diversity
David Rocks

Quora Inc., which runs the eponymous questions and answers website, couldn’t figure this one out: Why were so many Black and Latinx college students rejecting its job offers or withdrawing from interviews? Last year, a recruiter suggested that the Silicon Valley company might seem more welcoming if it had dedicated groups of underrepresented employees for the candidates to consult. Higher-ups were initially skeptical, she says, whether the company even had enough diverse employees to do so. Quora says it’s in the process of creating such groups.

Silicon Valley’s predominantly White, male workforce didn’t have to be this way. The wave of national unrest around ingrained racism has called attention to the dearth of people of color across corporate America. Yet if there’s one industry that should have been able to avoid these problems, it’s technology. Many of today’s biggest tech companies, which frequently use their corporate mission statements to espouse utopian harmony, didn’t exist a few decades ago. They didn’t inherit the same racial disparities entrenched at banks and other centuries-old institutions. Yet they’ve replicated the same rot.

“Tech had started to take over our world, but as the industry added tens of thousands of jobs, it was ushering in the same systemic racism we’ve faced for 100 years,” says Joseph Bryant, who leads PushTech2020, an initiative of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. “It’s not just, ‘Don’t put your knee on my neck.’ It’s also, ‘Help me get a job and build wealth, because I’m qualified and you’re not even looking in my direction.’ ”

According to the Kapor Center for Social Impact, about 21% of computer science graduates are Black or Latinx, yet they represent only 10% of technical roles at the 20 top-grossing tech companies. More than 97% of tech startup founders and their venture capital backers are White or Asian.

Renewed vows in June by tech companies to diversify their workforces recall years of failure at Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. At those companies, Black employees make up 3.3%, 1.7%, and 2.4% of technical roles, respectively. Proxy statements show there was only one Black executive among the leadership teams at Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon.com last year. He was at Google, and he left in January.

To truly make good on all these years of promises, tech companies must start by puncturing two pervasive Silicon Valley myths: that they’re meritocracies where everyone gets a fair shot, and that diversity is a pipeline problem. The reality is that Black employees are leaving faster than they’re being hired because, for people of color, many tech companies can be painful places to work. Getting through the door is one thing; staying and progressing up the ranks to a position of influence is another.

Often, Black employees are the only minorities on their teams. They receive salary offers that average $10,000 less than offers to White peers, according to recruitment marketplace Hired Inc., and take longer to get promoted. Many also incur what’s referred to as a “Black tax”—additional work such as representing the company at career fairs or conducting new-hire interviews, implicitly distorting how diverse the company is. That takes them away from their day job for no extra pay. Small wonder, then, that many tech companies lose more Black employees through attrition in a given year than they manage to hire. To have any meaningful change, tech companies will have to spend as much time—or more—retaining and promoting Black employees as getting them in the door.

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August 10, 2020