WIPR Influential Women in IP 2020
Google’s lack of racial diversity is skewed primarily
against two groups: Latino and Black people. This
is particularly glaring when compared to the US
population as a total. You could perhaps get a truer
picture by looking at the geographic spread of
Google’s national headquarters is located in
Mountain View, California, where it employs more
than 20,000 people (a significant chunk of parent
company Alphabet’s global 100,000+ workforce). The
demographics of California could possibly go some
way towards explaining the proportion of Black+
employees at Google—the 3.3% figure compares
slightly more favourably to the 6.5% of California
residents who are Black or African-American, than to
the total US figure of 13.4%.
But this still doesn’t explain how underrepresented
‘Latinx+’ people are—the USCB says that Latino
and Hispanic people make up 39.3% of California’s
population. It would be unfair to focus exclusively
on Google (which could not provide a spokesperson
for comment), especially as these figures are only
intended to demonstrate a trend that is common
across the tech sector. Look at similar players in the
industry, and you will find the same dynamics.
Facebook’s latest diversity report, published last
July, indicates that 36.9% of its global workforce are
women. When looking at technical jobs, that drops
to just 23%. Its US staff consists of 5.2% Hispanic
people, and 3.8% Black people. In technical roles, this
is 3.5% and 1.5%, respectively.
What is being done
If we know, and the tech sector knows, that the
industry has a grave diversity problem, then perhaps
we should look at how things have changed over the
past few years. If tech is serious about solving the
problem, what has it been able to do to help balance
these figures out?
In 2014, 31% of Facebook’s staff were women, but
just 15% of its technical staff. Over five years, that’s a
percentage increase of 5.9 and 8, respectively. Looking
at a different metric, Google’s 2019 report states that
the company increased its hiring of women globally
by just 1.9% from 2018, while its proportion of
Latinx+ and Black+ hires increased by 0.7% and 0.5%,
respectively. For many people, this rate of progress is
Alaina Percival, board chair of Women Who
Code, has seen first-hand how damaging this lack of
diversity can be on underrepresented employees at
tech companies. Her organisation focuses specifically
on gender equality, and she has observed how
women can often internalise a lack of professional
advancement and blame themselves.
“If you’re the only woman in a team of 20, you
might start to get the feeling that you don’t deserve
to be there,” Percival says.
“People might mistake you for the secretary or the
recruiter for the company, or you might be overlooked
of Facebook's technical
staff were women,
as published in the
company's latest diversity
report in 2019
increase from 2018 in
Google's hiring of women
globally, according to the
company's 2019 diversity
and inclusion report
for promotion because of preconceptions about what
makes a good leader.”
What makes a good leader, she says, often just
means ‘being male’.
“You start to think that maybe you’re not good
enough when you keep hitting barriers over and
over,” Percival adds.
The diversity reports are useful insofar as they
illustrate starkly the shape of tech’s diversity problem.
Women are underrepresented, and a lack of racial
diversity skews heavily against Latin and Black people.
All of these problems are exacerbated when
looking at technical roles. The numbers are clear, and
demonstrate a rate of progress that is out of step with
the tech industry’s stated commitment to greater
Looking at the numbers alone, you can lose
something of the dynamic on the ground. Why are the
numbers this way, what are the real obstacles to equality,
and what are the potential solutions? It’s difficult to
prescribe a list of quick fixes, but these are the questions
that should accompany any diversity report.
Fixing the bias
Tech companies will often point to a lower proportion
of the industry’s underrepresented demographics
studying subjects related to science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at universities.
In this way, it can be argued that tech’s diversity
problem mirrors the ‘pipeline’ of graduates coming
through with the required technical expertise.
Diversity in the workplace