Dear Google, Not All Black Computer Nerds Attend Howard

Louis Byrd
Written by Louis Byrd

“We need more diversity!” said the Silicon Valley tech giant executive.
“We need to recruit more black people in tech roles,” another executive shamefully shouted out into the room.
While the disillusioned exec team pondered with fixed, perplexed looks on their faces, beyond the shadows they heard a voice.
“Let’s focus on the black colleges! You are bound to get great recruits there. Let’s make sure not to lower the bar by focusing on the most prestigious and known black schools..and no. Hillman College — the one Denise Huxtable attended — is not one of them. That school was fictional.”

Stepping out into the light was Captain Obvious.

It is logical to focus recruitment on schools that have a broad pool of the exact groups of people you are trying to attract. Casting a broader net in a more concentrated pond does make sense. But is it the right solution?

From LinkedIn. By Louis Byrd, principal and cultural brand strategist at Mellie Blue Branding, a cross-cultural brand consultancy that helps engineering and tech companies enhance their brand systems with cultural competence and intelligence. Byrd is also co-founder of Awari.io, an enterprise app built with cognitive technology, designed to discover hidden bias in performance management and appraisal reviews.

 

This morning I read about great news coming out of Silicon Valley. Google has created a more entrenched effort to diversify it’s workforce by introducing a new program co-opted with Howard University called Howard West—which is a 12 week summer program allowing 25 students from Howard to be trained at Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters and receive mentorship from Google engineers.

The hope is that this program will be a step toward addressing Google’s diversity problem.

While I’m extremely happy for the students at Howard and future historically black colleges and universities that may gain much attention by Silicon Valley in terms of recruitment efforts, I find myself equally envious knowing there are many students of color who attend predominately white institutions who remain ignored. In fact, I was one of them.

As a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a self-proclaimed “Ivy League” state school in the middle of Missouri, I know how often the black student populace, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), goes ignored in campus career recruitment opportunities.

If it wasn’t for a program called INROADS, the likelihood of me earning an internship during college years would have been slim to none.

Is recruiting at HBCUs the greatest solution?

Ah yes…the talent pipeline.

It’s been tough recruiting more black techies into Silicon Valley because of the talent pipeline. There are not enough black people (and let’s not forget our Hispanic and Latinx kinfolk) to recruit and fill roles in tech. At least that’s what we’re told.

Despite the fact that blacks and Latinx people make up roughly 18 percent of computer science degrees, there is a talent pipeline problem; therefore, we need a program like Howard West to fix that, right?

Silicon Valley is obsessed with meritocracy, which left me a little confused as to why Google’s implementation of a program dedicated to addressing the talent pipeline in tech-specific fields is associated with Howard University.

No dis against Howard because I know it produces amazing, highly intelligent people, but for a tech company to start its pilot program aimed at addressing diversity in tech roles, makes no sense to approach Howard, first.

Howard is rightfully one of the most well known and prestigious HBCUs, but if you want to focus on engineers, why not start at North Carolina A&T, which arguably has the best computer program for HBCUs, ranking No. 1 out of 25— or Florida A&M or Prairie View A&M for that matter?

We know Silicon Valley has an obsession with prestige, which often overshadows the false idea of meritocracy.

Could Google have fallen victim to its old habit of recruiting at the most “Ivy League” institutes only?

What about black students at a PWI?

Predominantly white institutions (PWIs), for the most part, don’t have the same hurdles to jump as many HBCUs do when it comes to recruiters visiting their institutions or developing co-op programs.

While in theory PWIs have access to more opportunities, too often black students remain marginalized within these institutions and don’t always gain equal access to the same opportunities as their white peers. When companies come to campus to recruit, for example, black and Hispanic students often simply “don’t show up” for information sessions. During my undergrad years, I recall hearing about private recruitment sessions, after the fact. Guess I didn’t get the invite.

What happens to that young black student who would like to participate in a Howard West type of program at a tech giant if they don’t attend one of the chosen HBCUs or one of the companies’ preferred top-tier feeder schools (Stanford, MIT, and Harvard)?

Because they didn’t attend the right school, they are left trying to figure out the best way to gain recognition.

Yes they could apply directly to the company, but Google’s past statistics shows how well they fare when it comes to recruiting black people, generally, in their tech divisions.

What is the solution?

I commend Google for making strides to increase diversity within its ranks; however, I often wonder if they are more passionate about the facade of change versus actual change.

For such a disruptive tech company, I find their solutions to addressing diversity to be the least disruptive, and often lazy attempts at best.

Emphasizing recruitment and making talent pipeline programs are a start, but what is Google doing systemically, internally, to change?

Recruiting at the top HBCU, even though they’d have a much larger pool of the exact candidates they are looking for at lesser-known HBCUs, is a hint that systemically the organization has not evolved.

The solution is not recruitment. What is called for is a complete evaluation and shift of Google’s internal organization and culture.

You can recruit the most diverse talent, but if they constantly feel at odds in the workplace, then the effort of inclusion is null and void.

Is a Howard West program a great step forward? Maybe. It certainly has promise. But was it necessary? I am not sure.

This same type of initiative could have been implemented through the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) which has chapters at varying colleges and universities across the nation (and internationally)— allowing many black STEM students, including those beyond the HBCU network, the opportunity to participate and learn from Google’s elite.

Oh wait, Google has implemented that program. It’s called Code For Success. Have you heard of it? Yea, me neither, and as a former member of NSBE I keep up with most things related to the organization. The program is reduced to a simple coding boot camp, which is a complete missed opportunity to truly tap a broad group of young, black talent nationwide all stemming from the same network.

As it relates to addressing the diversity problems within the company, Google has all the right pieces in place, but the strategic fabric to bring it all together is missing.

Is Howard West and the focus on recruiting at the top HBCUs the best solution to increase diversity amongst black candidates at Google or Silicon Valley in general?

This article was published with the permission of the author.


About Louis Byrd
Louis Byrd is the Principal & Cultural Brand Strategist at Mellie Blue Branding, a cross-cultural brand consultancy that helps engineering and tech companies enhance their brand systems with cultural competence and intelligence. He is also Co-founder of Awari.io, an enterprise app built with cognitive technology, designed to discover hidden bias in performance management and appraisal reviews.