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Why are Black and Latino people still kept out of the tech industry?

Sam Dean and Johana Bhuiyan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

It seemed like tech was turning a corner.

For years, the industry's giants had resisted calls to disclose workforce diversity data, making it difficult to pinpoint precisely how much whiter and more male Silicon Valley was than the population at large. But Google's 2014 decision to publish the racial and gender breakdown of its workforce appeared to signal a sea change.

The numbers revealed an industry dominated by white and Asian men. Of nearly 50,000 employees at Google in 2014, 83% were men, 60% were white, and 30% were Asian. Just 2.9% were Latino, and 1.9% Black. A year later, as other major Silicon Valley companies began releasing their own diversity numbers, Google announced it would dedicate $150 million to increasing diversity at the company.

In the years since, Google has more than doubled its workforce but made minimal progress toward a more representative one. The numbers are similar across the industry.

This lack of diversity -- as of May, Google reported that 5.9% of its employees and contractors are Latino and 3.7% are Black -- extends up through the ranks of top executives, entrepreneurs who found companies, and venture capitalists who invest in startups.

The industry, which prides itself on agility, has failed to move the needle on workplace diversity. The net result is an entire sector of the economy -- the sector that has created the most wealth in California in the last 10 years, minted billionaires, and reshaped the San Francisco Bay Area in its own image -- that is functionally barely open to Black and Latino people.

 

Tech leaders have often pointed to a "pipeline problem" to explain away the lack of Black hiring and promotion. But in 2016, 12% of graduates with a degree in science, technology, engineering or math were Black, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Even the graduating class of computer science majors at Stanford, Silicon Valley's elite training ground, is more diverse than the companies just down the road from campus.

Whether you set targets based on the national population or STEM graduates, few tech companies come close, said Freada Kapor Klein, a founding partner at the venture capital firm Kapor Capital who's been advocating for increasing diversity in tech for decades.

"There are a lot of hard and fast numbers you could use to set the goalposts," Kapor Klein said. "But (tech companies) aren't even in the parking lot -- they're so far from the field they need binoculars to see them."

The problem, in Kapor Klein's estimation, is not one of education but of access and support. A number of Black tech professionals agree that the industry's reliance on personal relationships to grant access and opportunity is partly to blame, producing a network effect that militates against Black and Latino inclusion.

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