A recent editorial in The New York Times on ways to improve the cultural and ethnic diversity of Silicon Valley showed the extent to which this issue has moved to the forefront of the national consciousness. This is with good reason. In this day and age, it is simply unacceptable for a thriving industry to ignore the growing ethnic and cultural diversity that will define the 21st century.
The controversy over Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity has grown on one misstep after another, all of which reveal how Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other high-tech companies are completely out of sync with the modern workforce. For years, these companies refused to release their diversity data. When pressure from outside groups became too difficult to bear, Google became the first company to release statistics. Over the subsequent months, other tech giants followed suit.
The figures these companies ultimately released showed why they had been reluctant to be forthcoming. The number of African Americans and Hispanics in these firms was distressingly low: five percent at Google, five percent at Twitter, six percent at Facebook and six percent at Yahoo.
Faced with a window into this disturbing aspect of its corporate cultures, Google led Silicon Valley’s defense, arguing that their employment numbers reflected a paucity of minority graduates with technology degrees.
As a lifelong educator and former president of both Tennessee State University and Florida A&M University, I was immediately skeptical of this claim, particularly since I have witnessed a procession of young African Americans and Hispanics head into the workforce with critical skills over the years.
It did not take long for gaps to appear in the case Google attempted to make. In a comprehensive report, USA Today showed that African Americans and Hispanics graduate with computer science and computer engineering degrees at twice the rate that they are employed by Google and others.
Yet even as tech industry’s diversity problem has drawn increasing scrutiny, some in Silicon Valley have responded to it as if it were a grand theoretical problem with no immediate solutions.
Consider the recent article in The New York Times on Google’s response to its diversity challenges. The newspaper reported that Google is undertaking “a long-term effort” to diversify its ranks, including a series of workshops. “There’s just one problem: The company has no solid evidence that the workshops, or many of its other efforts to improve diversity, are actually working,” the Times article states. “In some ways Google’s plan to fix its diversity issues resembles many of its most ambitious product ideas, from self-driving cars to wiring the country for superfast Internet.”
Driverless cars are a futuristic technology that, for the most part, is relegated to science fiction. Diversity in the workplace does not belong in the same category. With tech companies far behind almost every other industry in terms of diversity in the workforce, it long past the time for Silicon Valley to take tangible steps toward employing more African Americans and Hispanics.
I am personally frustrated at the fact that qualified young minorities are missing out on the life-changing employment opportunities available at tech companies like Google. That is why I intend to take action by working with my colleagues across America’s robust system of historically black colleges and universities to make sure that Google, Facebook and other tech companies know that minority graduates are ready to work and capable of exceling in tech.
I will push tirelessly to ensure that these firms are aware of the quality of minority candidates available for jobs anywhere in their organizations. In doing so, we are willing to meet Google and the rest halfway. If they come to our campuses and meet our students, we guarantee they will meet a crop of young men and women as ready to take on the tech world as much as any group they have ever met.
Dr. Frederick S. Humphries is President Emeritus Tennessee State University, President Emeritus Florida A&M University, former Chairman of the Board of Directors at The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and former President & CEO of National Association for Equal Opportunity.