Silicon Valley companies are supposed to disrupt cozy business relationships and empower the creative-minded with cutting-edge technology. But in one key respect -- its hiring practices -- Silicon Valley is very much the old guard.
At the three large companies that have provided hiring data recently -- Google, Yahoo and Facebook -- workforces remain overwhelmingly white and Asian, and overwhelmingly male. (Apple will release its numbers "at some point," CEO Tim Cook said Monday.)
At Google, for instance, 70% of workers and 83% of tech workers are male. Men hold 79% of leadership posts. And its overall workforce is 91% white or Asian.
Some of this lack of diversity can be explained by shortcomings in America's educational system and by a culture that discourages women from careers in science and technology.
But this explanation is also a cop-out for companies that could be doing much better.
African Americans, for example, account for 11.5% of the degrees being given in computer sciences -- not bad for a group that is 13.2% of the overall population and accounts for 10% of all bachelor degrees awarded. Yet Facebook, Google and Yahoo all report that just 2% of their workers are black.
Tech leaders ought to be embarrassed by such numbers, especially considering that their companies are popular places to work, are located in desirable places to live and have large pools of applicants from which to draw.
The companies need to mount a major campaign to attract a more diverse workforce. If they don't, they run the risk of losing touch with their diverse customer base.
Achieving greater diversity requires seeking out and identifying qualified minority and female applicants. It requires having an open mind at hiring time, as opposed to relying on old habits and familiar networks.
The ascension of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg to top leadership positions at Yahoo and Facebook, respectively, demonstrate what women can achieve at tech firms if given the opportunity.
Most of all, greater diversity will take a commitment from the CEOs to make a diverse workforce a key corporate goal. Beginning as early as the 1980s, other industries ranging from newspapers to financial services made diversity commitments. The most successful had strong, sustained leadership from the top.
It is time for tech to follow suit. Perhaps getting a more diverse workforce of top programmers will take time. But many of Silicon Valley's hires are not code-writing geniuses. They are, instead, technologically proficient and highly creative people whose job it is to relate to customers by designing and marketing elegant, user-friendly products.
With these jobs, it makes great sense to hire people from a wide range of backgrounds. Tech companies ought to know this and figure out how to accomplish it.
There's no app that will do the hard work for them.
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