SAN FRANCISCO — In 2014, leading technology companies released data showing they vastly underemploy African Americans and Hispanics. Those groups make up 5% of the companies workforce, compared to 14% nationally.
Company personnel leaders — many with titles such as director of diversity and inclusion — admit they have work to do but often cite a “pipeline problem” as a key factor in their inability to hire more computer scientists of color.
But a USA TODAY analysis of employment documents submitted by Facebook, Google and Yahoo to the federal government reveals that minorities are also sharply underrepresented in non-technical jobs such as sales and administration, with African Americans faring noticeably worse than Hispanics.
For example, Hispanics make up 5% of college-educated officials and managers nationwide, 4% at Yahoo and even less at Facebook and Google. African Americans make up 6% of officials and managers nationally, but 2% or less at these three tech giants.
Black and Hispanic professionals — a broad category that includes lawyers, accountants, marketers and computer scientists — make up 5% of all professionals at Facebook, Google and Yahoo but 13% of college-educated professionals nationwide.
“The data tells the whole story,” says Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow PUSH coalition has pressed Silicon Valley companies to face up to their diversity problem. “There are talented blacks and Latinos who can fill well-paying non-tech jobs in the tech industry. Let’s not limit the debate to computer science and engineering positions.”
Kara Smith, 36, has an MBA from Northwestern University and is a product manager at Xtime, a Redwood Shores, Calif., company bought by Cox Automotive last month for $326 million in cash. She says she’s gotten used to being one of the few black people in the room.
“If you are going to feel intimidated by that, this is probably not the industry for you,” Smith said. “Do I think this leaves me behind sometimes or that I am not reaching my full potential? Possibly. But I try not to focus on it.”
Erin Teague, an African-American engineer and director of product management at Yahoo, says the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is a deterrent to many of her talented peers of color.
“I have friends who say, ‘I can move to New York and work at an amazing company or I can move to Silicon Valley and work at an amazing company, but in New York I will have a network, I’ll have friends,’ ” she says.
That poses a major challenge for Silicon Valley companies that are staffed largely by white and Asian men while trying to appeal to diverse users.
“If we are the primary users of these products, then we have to be part of the teams building them,” Teague says. “It’s advantageous for companies to employ us.”
A broad range of interviews and reports by USA TODAY in the recent months show that Silicon Valley companies tend to be built through the professional and social networks of employees, perpetuating the status quo. Hiring managers and executives have begun casting a wider net to broaden diversity and are training employees how to combat unconscious bias.
“I think people at Google and these other companies mean well. Sometimes they’re just not aware the problem exists because the priority at these companies has been to build great products for their users. Now that they are more established and have proven their models work, they naturally reflect on what they would have done or will do differently going forward,” says Eric Flores, a former Google employee now an entrepreneur in residence at Manos Accelerator, which targets Latino entrepreneurs.
Flores adds that he doesn’t expect change overnight: “We have to be patient.”
Black and Hispanic executives at major technology companies declined to speak on the record about their experiences out of fear of reprisal or losing their jobs.
But in months of interviews, many say they feel isolated inside their companies and have seen their career advancement stall.
An executive at one Silicon Valley company, echoing the experiences of other black and Hispanic employees, described how his employer insisted on including him in staged photos to give the impression of racial diversity. He said the photo ops often took place after meetings to which he was not invited or where he had no input.
A former employee of another technology giant said women and African Americans were routinely shut out of management roles.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, run the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which is pushing for more diversity in technology. They say if change is to come, senior company leaders will have to walk the diversity walk.
“It’s like climate change: There’s a process of accumulating enough evidence and momentum that people’s view of the world changes,” says Kapor. “I think we are still, to be honest, really early in that process.”
Adds Kapor Klein: “There is underrepresentation in every category. (But) I do think we’ve seen in 2014 the beginning of the dismantling of this myth of meritocracy. And if Silicon Valley isn’t one, why and what can we do to make it one?”
COLLECTING, ANALYZING THE DATA
USA TODAY was interested in learning more about the racial and ethnic mix at major tech companies, especially since more than half of their workers do not write software or handle technical tasks.
We analyzed 2013 Equal Employment Opportunity 1 reports filed with the federal government by Facebook, Google and Yahoo. The firms disclosed their reports, which the government keeps confidential, under mounting pressure from Rev. Jackson.
Apple and Amazon have repeatedly refused to provide such specifics. Microsoft revealed its EEO-1 earlier this month.
We compared the reports with federal data on the civilian workforce ages 20 and older, against which employment diversity and discrimination are measured. We narrowed our comparison to those with a bachelor’s degree or more, given tech giants often limit hiring to this group.
Among the findings:
• Hispanics fared best at Yahoo. Hispanic professionals and technicians are twice as common at Yahoo as they are at Google and Facebook. All three employ Hispanics in sales and administrative support roles at levels that roughly match or exceed their shares of the national workforce.
• African Americans fared poorly at all three tech companies. As officials and managers, professionals, sales and administrative support workers, they reach just a third to half of the levels they represent in the national workforce. The only job category in which they approach the national rate is as technicians, with Yahoo providing the most jobs and Google the fewest. However, technicians make up just 1% of the three firms’ employment.
• Among the three firms, Facebook’s black representation ranks lowest in almost every job category.
Facebook, Google and Yahoo declined to comment on the findings.
Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, is spearheading an effort to encourage tech companies to collect and crunch data to analyze and address the diversity problem.
These companies routinely crunch numbers to build the best products; now they must dissect every aspect of recruiting and retention to build the best companies, says Chou, who used to work at Facebook and Google.
“That’s not very standard right now. The data is not being rigorously collected and analyzed,” Chou said. “Establishing a baseline for the state of the world is how we can identify where the leverage points might be.”
Ultimately, changing these numbers will be critical to the continued success of the American tech sector, which in turn helps power the national economy, says Kapor Klein. She adds that with whites expected to become a minority in the USA by 2044, it will be critical that tech firms have a healthy pipeline to minority talent. Or else.
“What messages are (students of color and girls) getting from the culture, what messages are they getting from the tech companies?” asks Kapor Klein, noting that the wrong messages cause people of color to give up on tech careers. “The candidate pool just shrinks then, all the way to the door of Silicon Valley.”