Google’s Diversity Transparency Is Great—But It’s Still Just A Start

In an unprecedented move for a global technology company, Google released workplace data that illustrates how diverse the company is—which is to say, hardly diverse at all. But it’s a good first step in encouraging transparency and laying the groundwork for a more active effort to fix a problem that’s hard to address from the top down.

Globally, Google’s workforce is 70% men. In the U.S. 60% of its workforce is white, just two percent is black, and just three percent is Hispanic. In technical roles, the gender disparity is more striking: only 17% of such employees are women. Google, whose products and services impact millions of people around the world, employs 53,891 people full-time, but they’re predominantly males. 

Google didn’t break out specific data for its offices in over 40 countries around the world, just information on the company as a whole. 

Beyond Transparency

To justify these troubling numbers, Google points out that women earn 18% of computer science degrees in the U.S., while black and Hispanic students make up less than 10 percent of U.S. college graduates and earn fewer than five percent of all degrees awarded in computer science.

While those abysmal education statistics are certainly one big reason for the low representation of women and minorities in the technological workforce, they’re not the whole picture.

Nearly a third of senior leaders in science and technology fields say that a woman would never make it to the top position in their company, according to a study from the Center for Talent Innovation, a think tank founded by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett. And according to the nonprofit Code2040, just one of every 18 leaders at tech firms is black or Latino.

Google’s numbers reflect this imbalance: 79% of its leadership is male, two percent is black, and just one percent is Hispanic. Gender and racial disparities in tech might start in college, but the failure to prepare and promote minorities in the workplace falls on the shoulders of the firms themselves.

With Wednesday’s announcement, Google is setting a precedent—not just by exposing its white underbelly, but also advocating for changes that could, eventually, bring more diversity to tech in the future. It’s not enough to admit that a company has a problem—it needs to actively work to change the ratio both inside, and outside, its workforce.

For its part, Google has given more than $40 million to organizations that bring computer science education to women and girls since 2010. And its Google for Entrepreneurs program provides capital and other support for minorities in tech.

Earlier this year, it launched #40Forward, a program providing $1 million to 40 startup accelerators and incubators that pledge to increase the number of women entrepreneurs in their communities. Seventy-five percent of those companies are located outside of the U.S.

Google also said it works with historically black colleges and universities to provide a greater focus on computer science programs and attendance. One Googler, engineer Charles Pratt, was in-residence at Howard University this year and revamped the school’s introduction to computer science curriculum in an effort to appeal to more students.

Creating A Culture Shift

Using college degree statistics to justify diversity disparities does not address the larger issue for tech companies in Silicon Valley: While often describing themselves as a “meritocracy,” companies still hire people who fit a conventional image—the white, male “brogrammer.”

Yes, education is important, but it’s not the catch-all solution for diversifying the workforce. There also needs to be a culture shift—one that celebrates differences instead of perpetuating stereotypes.

At a women-in-tech event in San Francisco last week, designer and engineer Julie Ann Horvath said that startups and tech companies in general regularly hire people who are friends, and who all look or act a certain way—copies of one another. When someone different comes in, she said, there’s a greater chance they will get pushed out. 

See Also: Why GitHub’s CEO Ditched Its Divisive ‘Meritocracy’ Rug

She knows firsthand how difficult it can be for a woman in a boys’ club environment. Horvath was a champion for improving the gender imbalance at the Web-based hosting service GitHub, but eventually quit after suffering harassment.

It’s not enough to increase the number of women and minorities that complete degrees in computer science or related subjects. If companies really want to hire people from different backgrounds, they need to build a different culture—one that is inclusive, rather than continuing to adhere to the faux-meritocracy that has become the norm. 

More companies should do what Google did, as bad as it might make them look. If enough companies air out their dirty laundry, perhaps the community, at large, can begin to change. 

By releasing its data publicly, Google has created a way to measure the success of its diversity initiatives, and isn’t shying away from inevitable scrutiny. The numbers will serve as a way for the company to create actionable goals to better represent the community it serves—which, for Google, happens to be the entire world.

Update: Updated to clarify race statistics are U.S. only.

Lead image courtesy of raccorinne on Flickr

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