Changing the White Male Face of the Tech Industry

On San Francisco’s Valencia Street, in the early morning, a group of people stand near a public bus stop. They aren’t waiting for public transport; they’re waiting for their hi-tech ride with tinted windows and Wi-Fi to take them to Google headquarters in Mountain View. Most striking about this group is the fact that the dozen people braving the chilly morning are all men. White men. Over the past few months, campaigners pressured the largest tech companies, from Google and Facebook to Apple and Twitter, to release their diversity data for public knowledge. It became a major talking point for activists who demand change and equality for the tech sector. Statistics Don’t Lie The demographics of the top tech companies is vital to understand the failure of the industry to incorporate and recruit non-white men to their ranks. In late August, Gigaom published a series of reports that detailed the diversity at tech companies. And the reporting is not positive, at least not for women and minorities. Facebook is 69 percent male, Yahoo 62 percent, and Apple 70 percent. Pinterest, at only 60 percent men, is among the best in terms of diversity, along with eBay, which has 58 percent men. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Cisco (77 percent male employees), Intel (76 percent), and Microsoft (72 percent). On top of hiring predominantly white men, pay is also something worth mentioning. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in Santa Clara Country, the median salary for men is around $91,000. For women, it hovers around $56,000. And according to a 2014 report, the pay gap is only growing wider with time. Companies Pushing Forward “Slate Magazine” does a lot of diversity coverage and, in a number of their reports, they found women applicants who asked for a higher salary that would put them on par with their male coworkers were refused employment offers. These strong women were often seen as “abrasive” and counter to the existing office culture. Companies like Facebook argue they are simply hiring the most qualified candidates. Tech companies say that if women aren’t applying, they can’t hire them. There is some truth in that, but others point to the rise in women and minorities graduating from computer science programs across the nation as evidence that even as more and more minorities obtain degrees in tech-related fields, they remain on the sidelines as their white male counterparts gobble up jobs. A “USA Today” analysis of a Taulbee Survey showed that, while only two percent of technology workers in Silicon Valley are black and three percent Hispanic, this doesn’t measure up to the percentage of graduates from top universities. The report points out that in 2013, 4.5 percent of all new graduates in computer-related fields were African-American, and 6.5 percent were Hispanic. Even as the number of minority graduates rises, their employment in tech remains stagnant. “They’re reporting two percent and three percent, and we’re looking at graduation numbers (for African Americans and Hispanics) that are maybe twice that,” Stuart Zweben, professor of computer science and engineering at The Ohio State University in Columbus, told “USA Today“. “Why are they not getting more of a share of at least the doctoral-granting institutions?” Zweben asked. The Road Forward Despite the negativity and pressure being focused on the tech sector, there is still hope for change. The outspoken new female leaders at a number of companies have helped to reframe the focus on getting more women and minorities into the job force. Leading by example is Maxine Williams, the Global Director of Diversity at Facebook. She believes that the white male dominated talent pool has been the main obstruction for companies in hiring women and minorities. There are, however, means by which companies can attract and deliver more positions for non-whites. Williams believes that the path forward includes enlarging the talent pool to include those new graduates who have been largely left aside during new rounds of hires. “As far as we’re concerned, our strategy needs to be going to them, instead of expecting we will build it and they will come,” Williams said. She understands the need to diversify and increase the “color” at their offices, in the United States and abroad. “If you think about the product we create and who the people are who use Facebook, 87 percent of them are not in North America,” she said. “So they do not look like Mark Zuckerberg, or the type of people you typically associate with Facebook. If we don’t get this thing right, why on earth would people choose us?” The question is whether the momentum created over the past few months concerning diversity will continue. It has to, if people like Williams and others in top positions can make the changes to hiring policies that promote women and minorities. If not, what we are witnessing is lip service to a social problem that must be addressed. The status quo must go. [zipfinder]

Author -

Joseph Mayton is a long-time journalist, having covered Middle East conflicts for a decade. He now lives in San Francisco and focuses on the intersection of technology and society.

Share This