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Senior Managing Director | The Opes Group LLC

Silicon Valley’s Lack of Diversity

Acceptance and understanding of diversity is key to working well with each other in our society. This country is a beautiful mixture of various races, ethnicities, cultures and beliefs. Unfortunately, our work forces don’t represent this diversity. The tech industry in particular has seen a stunning lack of diversity. According to an article from TechRepublic.com, over 50% of employees at Apple and Google (two of the world’s largest technology companies) are white, and over 83% of tech executives are also white. Additionally, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, high tech companies hired a measly 36% of women when compared to non-tech related companies (48%).

These major technology companies play such a significant role in our lives, either through the services they provide or the products they create. These companies are creating some of the most important products of our time. Their smartphones store our personal conversations, their services store our professional documents and data, and their creations impact our lives on a daily basis. It is important that a wide variety of people, from all backgrounds, have a say in creating these user experiences.

In recent years, Silicon Valley has been called out for this lack of diversity. In fact, there have been many PR nightmares that major tech companies have suffered due to biased Artificial Intelligence. For example, Google Photos’ facial recognition software compared African-Americans to gorillas, and Microsoft’s AI bot made several anti-Semitic remarks. I believe that neither company intended for these outcomes, but their software was programmed by hundreds of people with similar backgrounds.

Several Silicon Valley giants apologized for the lack of diversity and promised that changes were being made. That was a few years ago, and according to reports, not much has changed. In fact, in some situations, things have gotten worse. According to an article from the Los Angeles Times, tech industries are currently experiencing something called “diversity fatigue.” In short, there has been such a push for more diversity in tech industries that it has caused people on both ends to burn out. Those who advocate are burnt out from not having seen a great deal of progress, and those who support it, but don’t actively participate, are simply tired of hearing about it. The statistics behind this are alarming. A report from Aubrey Blanche, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Attlasian, which surveyed almost 2,000 tech employees across the nation, found that a large percentage of employees are simply detaching themselves from the issue altogether. In 2017, only 35% of employees actively engaged in a discussion about diversity versus 42% the year before.

Some of the issues stem from well-intentioned, but poorly-handled initiatives. For example, the Times article shares a story of a CEO at a company who stood in front of a crowd of 200 employees and singled out the women in the audience to announce that they were focusing on hiring more women. According to an employee who witnessed the event, it had the opposite effect on the company; it only clarified and defined the minority. A failure to act on goals and missions is another cause for concern, many tech companies claim that they want to increase diversity, and yet the CEOs and executives remain silent on executing these plans. Retention versus recruitment is also a major factor in the diversity issue. Companies are only focused on hiring minorities, but not retaining them. That’s no way for a business to inspire change.

What exactly can we do to improve Silicon Valley’s diversity? Well, experts suggest reviewing company compensation programs and policies. By taking a second look at these policies, companies can ensure that minority groups are represented and fairly and equally compensated. Additionally, real consequences should arise from a lack of diversity. If a diversity program’s goals aren’t met, the consequences should be similar to any other failure to meet expectations. In short, these issues should be taken with the utmost priority.

Will Silicon Valley’s diversity issues be resolved overnight? No. But, with dedication, support and accountability,it is possible to see equal representation become a reality.