The Huge Diversity Disparity in Tech
While many of the major players are admitting to the issue, more need to make efforts around it.
By Rebecca Strong — Staff Writer
It started with Google: After the company decided to release its employee diversity statistics last May, some nudging from activist groups helped led a slew of other tech giants to follow. Before long, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and others were all giving a look at their diversity—or rather, lack of diversity.
But there’s a big difference between admitting the problem exists and fixing it.
With one glance at GigaOm’s chart of company diversity data (above), you can see that it’s going to take some serious effort to resolve the disparity, particularly in terms of the percentage of black employees. The chart compares the ethnicity demographics of the U.S. population to those at top tech companies. (Hispanic is not a separate category for U.S. labor statistics.)
Apple appears to be among the closest to representing the U.S. black population in its employee base. But as GigaOm pointed out, that’s at least partly because it includes retail store staff. Apple and eBay tie for the highest percentage of black employees on staff, at 7 percent.
Locally, Groupon’s statistics reflected this national trend, with its domestic workforce at 71% white, 15% Asian, 5% Hispanic and 4% African-American. Following the release of this data, the company said that “Like many of our tech industry peers, we recognize that there is more we can do. As a company that is just six years old, our inclusion and diversity programs are evolving alongside our business.”
A faulty pipeline
Clearly, a major source of the problem for tech companies attempting to achieve a more diverse staff is that there are a limited number of black and Hispanic graduates emerging from computer science programs. According to GigaOm’s reporting, 6.5 percent of recent computer-science bachelor grads with this degree were Hispanic and 4.5 percent were black. Meanwhile, 61 percent were white and 19 percent were Asian.
In Chicago, there are a number of organizations working to address this pipeline issue.
For example, Teamwork Englewood increases digital access and use by families and businesses in the community by providing technology classes, computer literacy classes, and Englewood Portal trainings. Englewood Codes, an initiative under the Teamwork Englewood umbrella, is a 10-week summer intensive where kids and young adults learn how to design, build and maintain their own websites.
Blue 1647 is a Pilsen-based tech and innovation center that’s focused on education, offering a variety of classes and workshops to neighborhood residents. Last August, its CEO announced that they’ll be launching a new Blue 1647 shared-space in Englewood in 2015.
A third, I.C. Stars, provides tech-based workforce development to low-income individuals, emphasizing the fact that “the fundamentals necessary to succeed in tech are the same as those necessary for community leadership.” So, not only is I.C. Stars preparing people for a career in tech, they’re also training future community influencers.
Tech industry efforts
Some companies have also been making efforts, but more need to follow suit.
At CES this month, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced that the firm is investing $300 million to improve its diversity. He also set a goal to have the country’s demographics fully represented in the Intel workforce and management by 2020, and announced that managers’ pay will be tied to achieving the diversity goal.
Krzanich challenged the entire industry to make similar efforts.
“This isn’t just good business,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. When we all come together and commit, we can make the impossible possible.”