Google admits it has a diversity problem


(Photo by EPA/BORIS ROESSLER)

Google elected to share some not-so-flattering numbers with the world Wednesday evening.

In a blog entry titled "Getting to work on diversity at Google," Google's senior vice president of "people operations," Laszlo Bock, posted a graphic revealing that 70 percent of Google's employees are men, 61 percent of its total workforce is white, another 30 percent are Asian, three percent are Hispanic and two percent are African American.

The numbers were first reported by PBS's NewsHour, which also revealed that some of Google's numbers look even worse when broken down by tech jobs. Just 17 percent of workers who hold technology positions are female, according to the report. Only 2 percent are Latino and just 1 percent are African American. Asian Americans, meanwhile, make up 34 percent of its tech employees.

"We've always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google," Bock wrote in the post. "We now realize we were wrong, and it's time to be candid about the issues." 

While the numbers may not paint a rosy picture of diversity at Google, several advocates for getting more women and minorities into tech applauded the company's willingness to lead the way in sharing gender and racial demographics. The move makes the company publicly accountable for improving its numbers and could very well prompt other tech companies to follow suit.


(Credit: Google)

In the NewsHour segment discussing the numbers, Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow on corporate governance at Stanford University who has been a critic on these issues, cheered the company's move. "The fact that one of the leading companies in Silicon Valley is now disclosing data," he said, "will put pressure on other companies to do the same. And then there will be pressure on them to fix this problem, which is amazing."

Companies in some industries frequently tout their progress in promoting women into senior leadership ranks and recognize the ratio of minorities on their boards. Some even go so far as to publicly share their racial and gender data. Not so with technology firms. Any company with more than 100 employees is required to file those numbers with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, though doesn't have to make them public. As a result, many Silicon Valley companies have long resisted sharing such information and have even fought to keep it hush-hush. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 80 percent of the U.S. employee population is white and 12 percent is black. Women make up 49 percent. Those percentages, however, are much lower in the tech industry. Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute, an organization focused on supporting women in the technology industry, said in the NewsHour segment that the ratio of women is typically 20 to 23 percent among the companies it considers top employers for women in computing. An Associated Press report said that roughly 7 percent is black or Latino, according to U.S. Census data. And a 2010 study found that less than one percent of venture capital-backed founders were black.

Google's had recent promised to publicly share how many minority workers it employs, following pressure from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to improve diversity at Silicon Valley companies. Jackson led delegations to the annual shareholder meetings at Hewlett-Packard, eBay, Facebook and Google in an attempt to draw attention to the issue and shame companies into improving their numbers.

Bock, for his part, admitted the company had been concerned about the image problems sharing the numbers could cause. When asked in the NewsHour segment why Google hadn't publicized the numbers until now, he said "quite frankly, because we knew we would not look good. And we were worried about litigation." He added that after much discussion, Google realized "the right thing to do would be to share this information, because we have an issue. Our industry has an issue. And the only way to have an honest conversation about this is to start by actually sharing the facts."

Read also:

Why we need more women working at the bottom, as well as at the top

Nearly a third of science and tech leaders say a woman can't reach the top

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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