Diversity in Tech: Dudes, you’re failing!

Warning: Fairly lengthy article, something of a rant, and I’m going to say “bullshit” quite a few times. Buckle up, buttercup…

In Guy Kawasaki’s book, Reality Check, he claims “Silicon Valley is a meritocracy like nowhere else.” Bullshit. Look at the lack of women, minorities, over-40. If it’s a meritocracy, then explain statistically impossible under-representation. Tech companies aren’t examples, they’re poster-children for how not to “do” diversity.

Diversity. Inclusion. As important as these words are, Tech just doesn’t get it. Even while company leaders tout the need to increase diversity for both business and social justice reasons and trip over each other trying to hire the biggest, baddest diversity guru, the better roles and big bucks are reserved for keepers of the bro culture. Considering that most of the industry is nearly evangelical about progressive change, it’s downright hypocritical.

Tech (Silicon Valley and other) needs to stop with the PR eyewash and public pronouncements of “We’ll do better, starting now!” It’s bullshit, and it’s growing tiresome. And it can’t simply be accidental or even anecdotal anymore; no metric-driven problem that mattered would be allowed to go on this long in the measure-everything world of technology, particularly that in the investor-or-VC-backed space.

Let’s start with some representative facts:

  • The U.S. population is approximately 51% female; Silicon Valley employs just 20% of women in technical positions.
  • African Americans make up 13.2% of the U.S. population; Silicon Valley employs less than 4% African Americans in technical positions.
  • Hispanics make up 17% of the U.S. population; Silicon Valley employs just over 4% Hispanics in technical positions.
  • Asians make up just over 6% of the U.S. population; Silicon Valley employs almost 40% Asians in technical positions.
  • Hispanics and African-Americans constitute a combined 14 percent of computer science and engineering graduates—but only 5 percent of the tech workforce.
  • Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate the leading tech companies hire them. (read this one twice)

Tech companies have been promising to “get better” now for almost a decade. So, a seemingly fair question… how much improvement on the numbers of women and people of color?

How’s this for an answer… Nothing. Zip. Nada. Bupkis. Ok, in all fairness, some numbers have moved ever-so-slightly. But I guaran-damn-tee that the amount of movement would be called “remained flat” in any financial results analysis.

If one of these tech firms had a critical financial metric scrutinized by their Board, and was unable to improve that metric at all in two years… how deep of analysis would be in play to satisfy the Board? What do you think would happen to the executive team? Whacked, is what would happen. Adios amigos.

At Facebook, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino (as EEO categories) remain substantially the same (2% and 4% respectively) as 2012, although Facebook’s headcount has grown almost 350% during that same time. 350%! Female employment is up a single percentage point during that same time.

In 2014, Facebook Diversity Czar Maxine Williams wrote “So at Facebook we’re serious about building a workplace that reflects a broad range of experience, thought, geography, age, background, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture and many other characteristics.”

Yeah… I’m calling bullshit.

Add to this the near assault-on-women going on. This pervasive environment of sexual harassment cannot exist in a vacuum. CEOs, when not the perpetrator (which seems to be common), know or permit such conduct. Investors turn a blind eye. VCs accept it as frat-boy shenanigans. Current examples include Uber’s Kalanick, Caldbeck of Binary Capital, Dave McClure at 500 Startups (and his subsequent bullshit apology).

This behavior is just the recent stuff, and only notable because it’s already in the news. As any who work in HR will tell you, if there’s “one or two,” there’s damned sure more.

Tell me again how diversity and inclusion within tech companies is a priority, and that they are doing “everything they can” to improve. Another bullshit call.

If I seem a bit ticked about this stuff, I am. And those who know me, know that I’m not a huge fan of diversity program efforts. But dammit, this is an industry who frequently holds itself up — and above others — as a beacon for social change and progressive improvement. And they’re frauds.

Here I am, in Houston Texas. Though incredibly diverse, many others don’t see my city in that regard. Saddled with the legacy of oil & gas and drilling mavericks, many believe that the good old boy network still runs at full speed here. It doesn’t, and as a matter of fact, Houston blows Silicon Valley out of the water when it comes to workplace diversity and inclusion.

According to the US Census Bureau to look in the valleys tech workforce is less than 3% black and just over 4% Hispanic. I’m from backwoods Houston, supposedly a bastion of good old boys (read: middle-aged white guys), and our tech workforce is 11.9% black and 12.6% Hispanic. We rank #1 for minority entrepreneurs.

In fact, almost every major metropolitan area in the country does a better job employing black and Hispanic tech workers than Silicon Valley. Houston, I think there’s a problem… in Silicon Valley.

And please, no crap about locally available talent. Silicon Valley has almost 3 times as many Blacks and Hispanics with degrees than employees, while employing four times the number of foreign nationals than black and Hispanic.

We cannot continue to accept microscopic improvements as advancement. I’ll say again: if tech executives and investors believed the poor diversity showing to actually be a major limiting factor to the company, they would put the effort and resources behind it and fix it. Until that occurs, we’ll just get more lip service.

Okay, why is this such an intractable challenge?

Personally, I doubt their sincerity. I don’t think they lay awake staring at the ceiling, agonizing over the lack of diversity at their organization. I think pledges they make publicly, and other idiotic moves like publicizing diversity goals, are simply an attempt to appear responsive to media accusations that racism and sexism just continue to permeate the tech industry.

In other words just a bunch of hooey.

I think it’s hysterical that some tech firms — Facebook, for example — actually blame the education pipeline for their inability to hire an equitably diverse workforce. Think about the sheer irony here… Mark Zuckerberg Facebook CEO is not a college graduate (nor is his cofounder Dustin Moskovitz). Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, another non-graduate, as is Tony Hsieh of Zappos.

Don’t even get me started about John Mackey, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Howard Schultze or Walt Disney. I’m not advocating dropping out of college, but I am saying you cannot use lack of diverse college graduates—even if true—when most technology and innovation has come from non-college graduates.

It’s the culture, folks. It’s broken, and must be fixed, and morph into something where diversity and inclusiveness are absolutely central to the success of the organization. Making diversity a bolt on statistic to a workforce will simply not work. Negative messaging—incentives, threats—don’t work.

Compliance is not enough… a culture shift is required, and that can’t come solely through compliance. Some starting points:

  1. Consequences matter. Both positive and negative.
  2. HR must change the focus to conversations, dialog and the commitment to diversity as a success competency, not a best-places-to-work soundbite.
  3. Change it, get better. This isn’t that difficult. You don’t recruit at a junior-college for ivy-leage graduates, because they aren’t there. Shift to target-rich sourcing environments.
  4. Modify the culture to retain diverse employees. Issues must be able to be raised without consequence (opposite of Google’s latest debacle). Failure without fear. Mentorships and advisors readily available to all.
  5. Money matters (always will)—but actions matter more. Show a commitment, don’t just keep talking about it.

This isn’t an all-inclusive list; nor is it some high-level, ultra-sophisticated rocket science. It’s problem solving 101, and it’s the same thinking process that drives revenue models, market approach and funding conversations. Apply it to diversity, if you believe it’s important.

If not, just shut up about it. I’m tired of you complaining, whining, promising, explaining and justifying failure. It’s bullshit, and enough is enough.

Do or do not; there is no try.

Be Brazen.

Comments

  1. says

    I love “in your face” and truth bomb articles! The real question is does Silicon Valley know how to do those things without going to opposite direction and end up creating quota systems that go the opposite way and exclude the right talent for the sake of diversity.

    How do they learn to close their eyes and see people for what they bring and truly create equality in their hiring processes? As for social justice, their words are feel good words. Social justice requires far more than donating a few million to a charity or a school. Social justice requires involvement AND resources!

    • D. Kevin Berchelmann says

      “… does Silicon Valley know how to do those things without going to opposite direction and end up creating quota systems…”

      I think so far, Bo, the answer to that is “no, they don’t.” Clearly, tech sucks at diversity, from all angles. Eitehr they don’t know how, or they do and they can’t pull it off, making me wonder how possible a numerical “balanced” workforce really can be. We all want it, but aside from fairly strict quotas, I’ve seen no path to a successful future.

      And you are spot on about social justice–tech is hiding behind philanthropic donations as a proxy for involvement and proven participation.

      …and yet, we (population at large) still give tech a pass when it comes to this, insisting (and publicizing) that “at least they’re trying,” and other related fluff. Meanwhile, stereotypical good ol’ boys, like O&G, petrochem, nondurable manufacturing and even financial services… all employ more women as a percentage of total workforce. Just because we like our iPhones and try to model our employee perks after google’s doesn’t mean they do squat for diversity and inclusion in employment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *