Silicon Valley has a diversity deficit. If you’re techie, then you’re probably a mid-20ish, white or Asian male—the likelihood spikes up when you’re talking about who occupies those fiercely competitive jobs in the Mecca of tech.
Just how “bad” is it? Twitter’s workforce composition is representative, boasting a demographic that is 70 percent male and 90 percent white or Asian. Ebay, in contrast (but not a stark one), has a workforce that is 42 percent female, 7 percent black, and 5 percent Hispanic—Meg Whitman had her 10-year stint as the company’s CEO, to boot.
My response to this was: well, duh! Take my anecdotal evidence for what it’s worth, but almost every techie friend of mine—albeit, none of them work for companies in the same caliber as Google or Twitter—is male and white. To be frank, I never took issue with that. And I still don’t.
But public figures and the media think that the white-and-Asian-Sausage-Party is a serious problem. Civil rights leader and reverend Jesse Jackson has raged up a storm, taking up the “diversity deficit” as his next civil rights battle. He is on record for stating: “There’s no talent shortage. There’s an opportunity shortage.”
What does the Reverend think we should do about it? First, he insists, we need pressure companies like Google to disclose their demographic info. Turns out that his initiative managed to pressure Twitter to release their data—the social media site has a sizable number of Hispanic and black users. And, of course, he advocates that the Obama administration needs to step in and scrutinize the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley by taking a closer look at employment contracts.
Yes, there is a lack of opportunity. But there is also not enough interested, female and minority talent to go around.
Howling about the sheer lack of diversity– as if the diversity deficit itself is the problem– is, unwittingly, a diversion from a deeper concern. Instead we need to shift our attention to the possible structural and cultural barriers that get in the way of individual women, blacks, and Latinos cultivating an interest in tech and the requisite skills.
First, we need to be asking the right question. And the most important one, which I think Rev. Jesse Jackson and company ought to be asking, is: 1) In the first place, why aren’t there enough women and [non-Asian] minorities interested in tech—or take your pick of any other STEM field?
Second point, building on the first, we need to be clear about the following: if there is a dearth of eager and skilled women and minorities to begin with, then we have little reason to jump to the conclusion that they are deliberately being screwed over— by tech companies, that is. As Jason L. Riley points out, the demographic makeup of the Silicon Valley workforce is a reflection of the “rates at which whites and Asians are earning the requisite degrees from America’s most selective institutions.”
No, Mr. Riley is not “mansplaining” or “whitesplaining” from his butt; according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women earn around 42 percent of undergraduate degress in math and statistics, 40 percent of physical sciences degrees, but only 18 percent of computer and information science degrees. At the high school level, much fewer women, blacks, and Latinos take AP Computer Science classes.
Again, we have little reason—if any—to believe that businesses in Silicon Valley are discriminating against women and minorities; it is a classic Pipeline Problem that begins as early as high school.
Third: how the heck can we get women and minorities interested and versed in tech? I do not think the solution lies in more aggressive Affirmative Action measures—or any other top-down, government solution.
Let me belabor the point that piquing interest is the first hurdle. Organizations such as Girls in Tech, #YesWeCode, and Code School are sensible solutions to the interest problem; they have the shared goal of reaching out to and educating women and minorities about computer and information science— and fostering the requisite skills, of course. Code School has partnered up with Google to nourish a crop of eager and talented, women and minorities. Google—again—pledged $50 million for another initiative aimed at encouraging women and girls to get into tech. #YesWeCode works with grassroots organizations and big tech companies to train inner-city youth to become high-caliber computer programmers.
Moral of the story: lamenting about the lack of diversity is not productive. Creating opportunities for individuals by allowing bottom-up, organic initiatives to thrive is.