3 Myths Often Used To Try And Justify Lack Of Diversity In Silicon Valley

Written by Maya Beasley

As the U.S. continues to undergo a significant demographic shift, companies must diversify their employment base in order to remain successful and profitable. According to the 2010 census, by 2043, there will be no clear racial majority.

In a purported first step toward increasing racial and gender diversity, technology giants in Silicon Valley began publicly publishing diversity reports in 2014. According to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, in 2014, blacks and Hispanics represented only 1.9 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively, of the professional-level workforce—both tech and nontech positions—at the headquarters and local branches of the top 75 Silicon Valley tech firms.

This equates to 101 black and Hispanic professionals at each firm—out of an average of 2,789 employees. Statistics for the entire Silicon Valley area are similar. In 2015, 2.2 percent and 4.7 percent of tech professionals were black and Hispanic, respectively.4

Three explanations are commonly used to explain away or minimize the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley:

  • Diversity is an issue everywhere.
  • There is a lack of qualified workers of color.
  • The tech sector is investing in diversity initiatives that will yield results in the near future.

 

From The Center For American Progress. Story by By Maya Beasley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an associate professor at the University of Connecticut. She is the co-founder and a principal at The T10 Group LLC, a diversity consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and California. Her first book, “Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite,” was published by the University of Chicago Press. She is finishing her second book, “The Social Portfolio: Building Up and On The Capital of Minority and Female Professionals.”

 

Some in the tech sector in Silicon Valley make claims to justify the lack of diversity in their workforces. The claims include that it is a nationwide problem.

The lack of diversity is not an issue everywhere

A so-called tech hub is a metropolitan area with dense networks of businesses, suppliers, and customers focused on the production and/or use of technology. But contrary to what is commonly assumed to be true, not all tech hubs lack diversity. Indeed, most tech hubs outside of Silicon Valley are noticeably more racially diverse.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Silicon Valley’s tech workforce is 2.2 percent black and 4.7 percent Hispanic. Bycomparison, Houston’s metropolitan area tech workforce is 11.9 percent black and 12.6 percent Hispanic, and the New York metropolitan area’s tech workforce is 7.3 percent black and 9.6 percent Hispanic. The Atlanta and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas both have large numbers and proportions of black tech employees—20.6 percent and 17.1 percent, respectively. Miami and Los Angeles are each comprised of a high number and proportion of Hispanic workers as well, at 29.9 percent and 12.7 percent. All of these metropolitan areas employ 1.5 times to 3.3 times the number of black and Hispanic tech workers as Silicon Valley.

There are qualified workers of color

The educational pipeline is not the primary cause of the absence of people of color in Silicon Valley. There are literally hundreds of thousands of blacks and Hispanics with tech-related degrees across the country, many of whom graduated from top programs. According to the National Science Foundation, in 2013, there were 262,981 Americans of color ages 45 years and younger with bachelor’s or advanced degrees in computer and mathematical sciences, as well as electrical engineering—just three of several fields closely associated with high-tech jobs. These individuals represent 18.8 percent of degree holders.

Of the people of color with degrees in these fields, 7 percent of men and 12 percent of women were unemployed compared with 2 percent of white men. An additional 13 percent of men and 16 percent of women of color worked in jobs unrelated to their degrees relative to only 7 percent of white men. This large proportion of people of color may well be opting out of careers in technology in order to avoid facing what they perceive to be noninclusive work environments given their relatively low representation in areas such as Silicon Valley.

Tech companies also cite their inability to recruit from their local markets. This is not the case. The 70,111 foreign nationals in Silicon Valley comprise 29.1 percent of the tech workforce, which is roughly four times that of the 16,744 black and Hispanic tech employees in the area.

Increased diversity training alone will not create inclusive spaces for people of color

Silicon Valley relies heavily on diversity trainings with no proven return on investment. The diversity industry is estimated to be worth $200 billion, at least $8 billion of which goes to diversity trainings. An estimated 43 percent of U.S. organizations report using diversity trainings, and nearly all Fortune 500 companies do so. Studies show that they have no significant effects on individual attitudes toward racial or gender groups and do not positively affect the diversity of their workforces. Money would be better spent investing in programming that has a proven track record of success, such as creating diversity plans and establishing and funding diversity initiatives to be carried out through diversity managers or diversity councils.

Read more about Beasley’s policy recommendations at The Center For American Progress.

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About Maya Beasley
Maya Beasley is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an associate professor at the University of Connecticut. She is the co-founder and a principal at The T10 Group LLC, a diversity consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and California. Her first book, "Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite," was published by the University of Chicago Press. She is finishing her second book, "The Social Portfolio: Building Up and On The Capital of Minority and Female Professionals."

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