Google Has a White Male Problem—Here's What It Needs to Do to Fix It

The tech company’s decision to release employee demographic data proves that we need to get serious about boosting Silicon Valley diversity.

(Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)

May 30, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Britni Danielle is a regular contributor to TakePart. She writes on a variety of subjects for Clutch, Ebony, Jet, and others.

From the powerful email and calendar capabilities to the GPS functionality to YouTube, there are few ways in which Google is not a part of our lives. But when it comes to the racial demographics of the folks behind the scenes—the ones who keep the company running—Google couldn’t be more disconnected from reality.

For years the Department of Labor has asked tech companies to reveal their diversity numbers, and on Wednesday Google took the unprecedented step of releasing demographic information on its 46,170 employees.

The breakdown? Like most of Silicon Valley, Google is overwhelmingly white and male. Men make up 70 percent of the tech giant’s global workforce. Here in the United States, whites comprise 60 percent of employees, and Asians are 30 percent. Meanwhile, 3 percent of Google’s workforce is Latino, and 2 percent is black.

Those numbers are out of step with America’s overall workforce, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is 80 percent white, 47 percent female, 12 percent black, and 5 percent Asian.

Angela Benton, an industry veteran and founder of NewMe, an accelerator for tech start-ups, says Google’s demographics are typical of the industry.

“Over the past few years I’ve seen more minorities, whether they’re entrepreneurs or employees, but it hasn’t been enough to move the needle,” she says. “Visually, you see more people than what were there previously, but it’s not enough to make an impact. Folks just need to do more.”

Over on the official Google blog, Laszlo Bock, the company’s senior vice president of people operations, chalked up its lack of diversity to the limited pool of job applicants.

“There are lots of reasons why technology companies like Google struggle to recruit and retain women and minorities,” he wrote. “For example, women earn roughly 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics make up under 10 percent of U.S. college grads and collect fewer than 5 percent of degrees in CS majors, respectively.”

Google has stepped up its recruitment efforts to ensure a more diverse workforce, wrote Bock. Since 2010, the company has given $40 million to organizations aimed at getting women and girls interested in computer science and working with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to “elevate coursework and attendance in computer science.” But Benton suggests Google and other tech firms need to think outside the box to find talented employees.

“The biggest issue people are overlooking when they talk about diversity in the tech industry is everyone wants to go after folks who have computer science degrees, but if there is a deficit in that area to begin with, then you’re not going to make an impact from a numbers standpoint,” says Benton.

If Silicon Valley really wants to make a change today, not 10 years from now, the white male–dominated tech companies need a new approach. “I need Google and other companies to think about how to handle this problem creatively, and that doesn’t mean only going after whoever has graduate degrees in computer science,” she says.

At this week’s National Venture Capital Association conference, both Re/code co–executive editor Kara Swisher and Singularity University vice president of research and innovation Vivek Wadhwa said whether a job applicant has a computer science degree isn’t the only issue, reported the Wall Street Journal.

The real elephant in the room? The racism and sexism that job applicants encounter, coupled with sheer laziness on the part of hiring managers.

“People in positions of power, namely those funding companies and appointing board members, too often get comfortable with their immediate familiars and fail to take a wider view of talented people in the industry and world,” the two speakers said, according to the Journal.

Similarly, Benton, who has helped underrepresented entrepreneurs secure nearly $17 million in venture capital funding, recommends that major technology companies look beyond the ivory tower for its talent.

“We all can’t go to Stanford,” says Benton. “It takes a little more work to find someone who didn’t go to an Ivy League school and who still fits the same criteria that they’re looking for, but a lot of these companies need to man up if they’re really interested in being a diverse organization.”

Bock admitted the company “is miles from where we want to be.” He contended, however, that the company is primed for change because it has finally acknowledged it has a problem. “Being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution,” he wrote. Now that Google is aware of its lack of diversity, let’s see if it takes quick, concrete steps to fix it.