White Guilt In High-Tech Hiring Practices

Introduction

Several weeks ago, Google “voluntarily” (more on that later) released statistics showing the racial and gender composition of its workforce in various company roles. While Google didn’t come out and explicitly say what they meant by “we’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity”, it’s fairly easy to decipher their intent when the pie chart slices for “white” and “male” are featured so prominently. The media seemed to come to the same conclusion that I did as well.

At the time of Google’s release, I figured it was only a matter of time before other progressive Silicon Valley companies followed suit. Sure enough, in the weeks that followed we were treated to similar reports from Yahoo!, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. All companies preached a similar “we have work to do” message. Several questions remain in the wake of these reports. Why are these Valley companies releasing data after years of resistance? What are they so ashamed of? And what exactly do they mean by “diversity”?

The Shakedown

Tech companies have long ignored calls for the release of workforce diversity statistics, and honestly I can say they had good reason to. It’s no secret that the tech industry is overwhelmingly male, and that a large proportion of American tech employees are white, but to actually admit that your company demographics fit this reality is just asking for the likes of Jesse Jackson to show up on your doorstep. Apparently Mr. Jackson got tired of waiting for a moment of weakness, andshowed up unannounced in March 2014 for a drive-by shakedown of elite Valley tech companies. Google’s diversity report came out in May 2014. Coincidence? I doubt it. With Mr. Jackson’s arrival, they likely saw the writing on the wall and decided to get a jump on the obligatory apology tour that accompanies one of his visits. Furthermore, when Jesse Jackson comes calling, you can bet that other civil rights groups won’t be far behind. Given that, I can completely understand why Google did what they did. It’s called “getting out in front of the story”, and it’s the smart thing to do. The flood of “me too” diversity report releases in the following weeks smelled of equal parts self-preservation, and smaller companies aspiring to do as Google does.

Clearly there is a motivating factor behind these recent diversity report releases — the threat of lawsuits. But is that all there is to this story? Given the highly progressive nature of these Valley companies, I don’t doubt that there is some amount of genuine contrition on behalf of Google et al. But what exactly are they so ashamed about? Again, while these diversity reports make vague mention of “problems” that are “being worked on”, it is never made explicit exactly what the problem is. Too few Blacks? Too few Hispanics? We’re meant to read between the lines, and the conclusion that any person familiar with the coded meaning of “diversity” comes to is that the “problem” is too many white males. These aren’t just the paranoid delusions of a privileged white male — the media immediately picked up on this intended meaning and ran with it.

I do believe that these Valley companies secretly (or not-so-secretly, as the case may be) are ashamed of the fact that, try as they might, they just can’t reach that ideal distribution of male/female/Black/White/Asian/Hispanic/gay/lesbian/transgender required to reach a state of liberal nirvana, and it bothers them to no end. They’ve built their empires on the efforts and contributions of white males, and that just feels wrong to them. So, while Jesse Jackson’s shakedown surely contributed to these diversity report releases, I think that there is also a significant motivating factor of paying penance involved as well.

When An Asian Isn’t A Minority

The media immediately latched on to the two biggest numbers in these reports: the number of whites and the number of males. Their conclusion? That these companies are “overwhelmingly” white and male. To their defense on the “male” part, yes, it would be fair to say that these companies are overwhelmingly male, to the tune of an approximately 70/30 split for each. But again, tech is male-dominated to begin with, so this is hardly surprising. In fact, I would say that the percentages indicate that these companies have made conscious efforts to increase the number of women in their workforce (or decrease the number of men, depending on your interpretation) relative to the rest of the industry.

The proportion of males to females in these companies isn’t what’s interesting — it’s the proportion of whites to minorities. Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo! are 61, 57, 59, 53, and 50 percent white in the US, respectively. Are these numbers really indicative of companies which are “overwhelmingly white” in light of the fact that the US is approximately 78% white? If anything, these numbers point to Valley companies as actively trying to under-represent whites in their workforce.

Still, the media chose to interpret these numbers as some sort of problem, while completely ignoring the fact that Asians are significantly overrepresented at these companies, to the tune of 30, 34, 29, 38, and 39 percent at Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo!, respectively. Keep in mind that the US is approximately 5% Asian while you digest those numbers. I strongly suspect that Indians are lumped into that “Asian” category, because it serves to hide the fact that these companies have not one, but two minority groups, which are grossly overrepresented while staying technically correct.

Why no mention of this in the media? Because it doesn’t fit the narrative of minorities being prevented from breaking into the “good ol’ boys club” enjoyed by privileged white males. If there were some significant category where Asians lagged behind whites in this country, they would be considered in the minority struggle. But that just isn’t the case, and therefore Asians aren’t considered a minority in the sense that Blacks are. And from the looks of it, Google et al don’t see this undeniable Asian overrepresentation as a problem either.

Conclusion

While it’s easy to understand why Google and other Valley companies have embarked on a self-flagellation tour over their diversity “problems”, what’s harder to understand is why these companies and the media perceive that they have a problem in the first place. Despite the fact that these companies are between 40 and 50 percent minority, the drumbeat of “not enough diversity” still continues on. The question we must ask ourselves, is how these companies are going to achieve their “goals”, i.e., who gets the short end of the stick when the numbers don’t “add up” to whatever is deemed “correct” by the powers that be.

What must also be considered with these recent developments is that these highly progressive companies are a bellwether for American industry as a whole. Today, diversity is tech’s problem to tackle. The employers and, disturbingly, the employees, are more than happy to make sacrifices for perceived diversity “problems”. Tomorrow, it may very well be your industry that is found to suffer from these problems.

© 2014 By Xienze, All Rights Reserved

 

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