Updated Dec. 5
I work in Silicon Valley and find that people genuinely appreciate working in a diverse environment. Although Black Americans are underrepresented as compared to Asians, Europeans and other groups, I feel that I still get the advantages of working under such diversity. People are not surprised when I, an Black American, finally meet them face to face. In fact, people seek my advice, include me in making decisions, support my efforts to succeed and get promoted, and so on.
It still begs the question: why aren’t we more represented in the workforce? I can think of many reasons, none of which would include the fact that Black Americans don’t want jobs in The Valley. HR departments and hiring managers need to look beyond stale requirements and criteria for jobs. In my experience, there is a culture, competitiveness and intensity in The Valley that requires an adjustment of expectations. There are also many programs to help acclimate and advance those with the drive. Black American who are willing will find the tools to succeed.
In addition to competency, you are expected to have certain ‘soft-skills’, which are not easy to teach, learn or study if you haven’t had the exposure. There is little tolerance, patience or willingness to teach competency or soft-skills on the job and you are to have both on the first day. It’s highly competitive with many people applying for the same jobs in The Valley. It’s is also grueling work, requiring many hours, long commutes, and personal sacrifice. Black Americans understand and have demonstrated competency in such executive type skills and are no strangers to sacrifice and hard work.
Right or wrong, I do feel that much talent is over-looked by looking to narrow standards for candidate criteria, which probably hurts Black American candidates the most. Black Americans aren’t strangers to acclimating ourselves to new environments or hard work, but anyone, of any race, needs to have the right expectations about what The Valley demands and what it takes to survive in it and succeed. I think there needs to be a meeting of the minds between Valley employers and Black job seekers/workers.
Anecdotally, if you are a programmer or engineer, you don’t seem to need these ‘soft skills’. Unfortunately, Black Americans seem underrepresented – scratch that – Americans in general are underrepresented when it comes to degrees in math, science and technology, so to no surprise, the one easy way to get a job based on pure qualifications without soft-skills are unattainable for those who don’t have this specific experience; though it seems like a younger generation with STEM training is likely to change this in the upcoming years.
I must say, though, that I feel that being a woman presents more challenges, or at least the disparity seems more apparent. In many areas women represent a higher percentage of the workforce, yet occupy none or very little C-level positions. Personally, I’ve worked in a department where women represent 90% of the workforce, yet all the managers are men. In many ways, it is like a good –ol’ boys’ club, and whether you are Black American or not, if you are male, you seem to be regarded, or rewarded, more highly.
In summary, being Black in Silicon Valley may present more racism, but in certain ways, can seem better in this respect than other industries due to the opportunities available if you can get in. People are people and come with their own agendas, biases or prejudices, but the intensity, drive and corporate culture in The Valley lends itself to dampening the effects of such human weaknesses and if for nothing else, because there is a genuine need for high numbers of specialized workers and employees of different races to get the job done – at least at public companies that need to meet that bottom line. The bottom line is the bottom line, and if you can meet it, I’ve seen Silicon Valley turn a blind eye to race.
This question originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
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