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Silicon Valley often gets knocked for a lack of diversity, but historically excluded groups are making an impressive showing at the top spot of the most valuable companies.
Just looking at the top 10 publicly traded companies based in Silicon Valley by market capitalization, half are run by someone who is a woman, an immigrant, LGBT, or nonwhite. By individual demographics, 20% are women and 30% are foreign-born.
Here’s a full list, with historically underrepresented groups bolded:
- Apple: Tim Cook
- Google: Sundar Pichai
- Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg
- Oracle: Safra Catz*
- Cisco: Chuck Robbins
- Intel: Brian Krzanich
- HP: Meg Whitman
- Salesforce: Marc Benioff
- VMware: Pat Gelsinger
- Adobe: Shantanu Narayen
The power of minorities, especially immigrants, became front-page news as Google promoted Indian-born Sundar Pichai to CEO. Counting Pichai here is arguable, since Pichai is in charge of Google Inc., while cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are CEO and president of Google’s new, publicly traded parent company, Alphabet. But Pichai is in charge of the business that matters—the business investors are buying into and the platforms, like Android and Chrome, that developers are creating products on top of.
Pichai joins leaders such as Oracle CEO Safra Catz (an Israeli-born woman) and HP CEO Meg Whitman as the changing face of business leadership. And up top, of course, there’s Tim Cook, who sent a message that the many gay and lesbian employees of tech companies can aspire to the top spot when he publicly discussed his sexual orientation in an essay in Bloomberg Businessweek last year.
Researcher and writer Vivek Wadhwa has shown that 43% of Silicon Valley companies founded in the last seven years had at least one immigrant founder. But, diversity reports from tech companies show that their tech and leadership ranks are overwhelmingly white and male (usually around 60%-80%). Interestingly enough, the CEO position seems uniquely welcoming to minorities in Silicon Valley.
Careful readers could critique the statistics presented. “Tech” is an ambiguous term. The East Coast has many old-school technology companies, like AT&T and Verizon, both run by white men. But outside the Bay Area, there’s also Satya Nadella, CEO of Washington-based Microsoft, another Indian-born American, and Ginni Rometty, a woman who runs New York-based IBM.
Whitman’s place on this list is tentative. Hewlett-Packard will split into two companies in November, HP Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and depending on how the market reacts, she may fall out of the top 10. No matter. Waiting in the wings is Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Her company currently ranks just outside the top 10.
To be sure, there is a lack of diversity within the range of minority groups. There is a conspicuous absence of black or Latino CEOs, even though both groups make up a substantial part of the US. That reflects a similar lack of diversity within Silicon Valley’s most valuable companies. Pinterest recently revealed that only 3 percent of its employees were African-American, Hispanic, or Latino.
There is no purely objective way to measure diversity in the tech industry, because both are fuzzy concepts. Whatever the definition of of “Silicon Valley” includes, it’s clear that groups historically excluded from leadership are making strides in the tech industry and immigrants, especially, have made valuable contributions to the US economy.
There’s much more to go until the ranks of CEOs are a true reflection of the American population. But that shouldn’t blind us to the progress that is being made.
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