Quinn: Silicon Valley can change the diversity conversation by telling the truth about its workforce
By Michelle Quinn - San Jose Mercury News 05/16/2014 02:29:07 PM
View Rev. Jackson's remarks at Google's Shareholder meeting, and Google VP David Drummond's response at http://www.tubechop.com/watch/3245761/]
The decision this week by Google to release information about its workforce's gender and racial makeup is a challenge to all of Silicon Valley to do the same.
Diversity in the tech industry isn't just Google's problem, although the search giant is a hiring force in the valley and one of the biggest tech employers with 47,000 workers worldwide.
And diversity isn't just a Silicon Valley problem, either, but a societal issue that touches on topics such as the education pipeline, the talent pool and internal and external biases and perceptions. Data is the starting point for an honest, public discussion about the issue.
Google's decision "is going to impact the rest of the valley," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told me. "If Google does it, others will do it."
His Rainbow PUSH Coalition has called on the tech industry to hire more minorities and women and make their boards more diverse. Jackson was outside eBay and Google's shareholder meeting this week and is planning to be at Facebook's meeting next week. He said his organization is going to open a permanent office in Silicon Valley.
Why does the makeup of Silicon Valley's workforce matter?
I can think of a few reasons. It's a new and growing industry, and conceptually at least, it does not carry the same baggage and barriers as older industries like finance.
Plus, industry leaders espouse the importance of pooling ideas from a variety of sources, said Aditi Mohapatra, associate tech sector director at BSR, a consulting group that works with companies on social issues.
"The concept of diversity is important to the industry as a whole," she said.
Besides, tech is in the middle of a local and national discussion on the haves and have-nots. Some see the firms' hiring policies as part of the inequality debate.
For Google, "as they grow their customers we want to grow with them, as employees, as C-suite participants," Jackson said. "We want two-way trade. We are suffering from a trade deficit."
Some companies such as Intel, Cisco, eBay and AMD have made their data available. From that, a Mercury News 2010 investigation found that the "unique diversity of Silicon Valley is not reflected in the region's tech workplaces, and the disparity is only growing worse." Specifically, Hispanics and blacks made up a smaller share of the valley's workforce in 2008 than they did in 2000.
Google, Apple and other firms have successfully fought efforts to have their workforce data released by federal regulators who collect it. Google told this newspaper at the time that it couldn't reveal the gender and race of its workforce because it considered it a trade secret.
I guess the secret is that everyone's numbers on this issue aren't good.
Now Google is reversing itself. "Many of the companies in the valley have been reluctant to divulge that data, including Google," said David Drummond, Google's chief counsel and an African-American, at the firm's shareholder meeting this week. "Quite frankly, I think we've come to the conclusion that we're wrong about that and we should be disclosing that data."
Not everyone agrees that all companies should make their hiring data available.
Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman, said the company has been releasing its data for some time and "it works for us" but he demurred in calling for anyone else to follow Intel's path.
"We believe every company needs to make the decision based on the criteria that are important to that company," he added.
I would disagree with Mulloy. We have been having the same circular conversations about this issue for years with little progress. In fact the situation for Hispanics, blacks and women has only become worse.
Data may get us to break out of the cycle. But individual companies acting alone, even important ones like Google, isn't enough. We need more companies to show what is really happening.