Silicon Valley has diversity problem. And while that’s well-known, it’s not all that well documented as companies tend to keep their employment statistics to themselves. Activists have been pressuring companies to make figures public, and yesterday Google came through.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Google published a breakdown of the company’s workforce by gender and ethnicity and said it had to do better.
Thirty percent of Google’s 46,170 employees worldwide are women. The percentage is lower for the company’s tech sector, where just 17 percent are women. And 21 percent of leadership positions in the company are held by women.
Comparatively, women make up nearly half the total work force in the United States. Within the tech field, they are about 20 percent of software developers and about 39 percent of web developers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
White employees are 61 percent of Google’s workforce while Asians make up 30 percent, blacks 2 percent and Hispanics 3 percent. The majority of leadership roles – 72 percent – are held by whites with Asians holding 23 percent and other minorities claiming less than 6 percent of top spots.
Four percent of employed software developers in the United States are African American, 5 percent are Hispanic and 29 percent are Asian, according to the BLS. Comparatively, 1 percent of the Google’s tech workforce is black, 2 percent is Hispanic and 34 percent is Asian.
Google and other tech companies have been pressured to release diversity numbers, most recently by Jesse Jackson, who led the charge on behalf of the Rainbow Push Coalition, a social diversity organization he co-founded. Jackson recently appeared at shareholder meetings for Hewlett-Packard, Google and Facebook, calling for more diversity in the tech sector and asking companies to release statistics.
Google posted the data along with a mea culpa for holding out so long: “We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.”
Google didn’t explain how it plans to improve diversity beyond its current efforts to recruit and retain women and people of color, such as extending maternity leave for women and establishing employee resource groups for minority employees.
Tech companies have blamed the pool of job applicants, which is dominated by white men and Asians, for its lack of diversity. Given that there are fewer female software and web developers, that does seem to be part of the problem. But why are there so few women in leadership roles? And what accounts for their high attrition rate?
The culture of Silicon Valley companies could be another reason women are underrepresented. “There can be a sexist culture that turns away women, as evidenced by the high attrition rate among technical women as compared to men. And women who try to start tech companies face exclusion by a venture capital network dominated by a chummy fraternity of men,” the New York Times’s Claire Cain Miller observed.
Remember “The Social Network”? The fictional portrayal of Facebook’s founding unfortunately captures how some Silicon Valley men view the women in their midst. The male characters spend their time coding and making business deals while the women in the film dance around in panties and perform oral sex in a bathroom.
A group of nine women who work at major tech firms are sick of it. They recently drafted what some are calling the tech industry’s “Feminist Manifesto.” “We happen to be humans who loved technology and embrace it wholeheartedly. But it was always clear things would be different if we were male,” they wrote. “Some of us felt that we didn’t need the programs and events geared specifically towards women — until the bad stuff started happening to us.”
What kind of bad stuff? Here’s a sampling:
We’ve been harassed on mailing lists and called ‘whore’/‘c–t’ without any action being taken against aggressors.
We’re constantly asked ‘if you write any code” when speaking about technical topics and giving technical presentations, despite just having given a talk on writing code.
We get asked about our relationships at interviews, and we each have tales of being groped at public events. We’ve been put in the uncomfortable situation of having men attempt to turn business meetings into dates.
We regularly receive creepy, rapey e-mails where men describe what a perfect wife we would be and exactly how we should expect to be subjugated. Sometimes there are angry e-mails that threaten us to leave the industry, because ‘it doesn’t need anymore c–ts ruining it’.
It’s not just these nine women. There was engineer Julie Ann Horvath’s high-profile exit from GitHub amid allegations of gender discrimination; Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham’s sexist rant in an interview with the Information; a walkout by indie game developers who were asked by producers of a YouTube reality show to comment on the attractiveness of the women developers. The Web site Geekfeminism.com has a timeline of tech industry sexism showing that the problem has long persisted. The release of Google’s workforce data is the most recent entry.