Lack of Diversity in Tech Takes Center Stage This Summer

Black tech leaders take Silicon Valley companies to task for homogenous hiring

The lack of diversity in tech can be a touchy subject. (Source: grist.org)
The lack of diversity in tech can be a touchy subject. (Source: grist.org)

There has been a windfall of media coverage this summer surrounding the lack of diversity in technology. Much of the news has evolved out of the release of demographic data from companies like Yahoo, Facebook, and Google. So far, African Americans working at Facebook still account for less than 1.5% of the company’s 5,470 employees in the USA last year. In addition, black and Latino employees at Google saw no changes in their representation among leadership, tech and non-tech jobs. At Yahoo less than 1% of tech employees and leaders were black.

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“The growing conversation of diversity in technology has focused exclusively on the technical nature of the position as justification for why companies cannot reach their goals,” says Natalie Cofield, president of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. “The reality is that a significant number of these roles are in auxiliary areas such as sales, marketing, human resources, support and services and are just as instrumental to the success of a technology company.”

Twitter and Apple have yet to release diversity reports, but Apple Global HR chief, Denise Young Smith told Forbes that the iPhone maker is scheduled to unveil theirs before the end of summer. “Apple’s upcoming report will show an uptick in hiring African American and Hispanic recruits,” said Young Smith.

“You don’t have to look very far to see that ethnic and gender diversity is driving the expansion of markets both in the U.S. and around the globe,” Eric Kelly, CEO of Sphere3D told Black Enterprise. “With the rapid growth of mobile devices, cloud computing and content creation, tech companies are finding themselves in a ‘sink or swim’ environment. One of the significant variables that will separate moderately successful tech companies from those with exploding profits and market share in the future, is diversity.”

The problem by which tech companies ignore minority populations stands to hurt their bottom lines. Recent news stories reveal that tech companies are not fully leveraging input from minority populations and, in some instances, have been outright offensive to them.

For example, Flickr, a Google company, incorrectly tagged photos of black people as apes. Experts say such a problem may have been avoided if black people were involved in testing the program. Also, In June, Tristan Walker tweeted at the company Twitter, saying it should “pay attention” to the fact that viewers of the BET Awards had hijacked the top trending topics on the platform.

Walker tweeted: “There’s something missing, an acknowledgement,” he says. “I’ve never seen an explicit call-out to the influence of this demographic on the service.” Bloomberg wrote about Walker, a former Foursquare vice president and founder of Bevel and Code2040, in an article titled, Why Isn’t Twitter Paying More Attention to Its Black Users.

In fact, blacks use Twitter more than whites, according to Pew Research; 22% of online blacks are Twitter users, compared with 16% of online whites.

While Twitter did in fact spend time training BET staff to use its new Periscope app for live-streaming behind the scenes and provided BET with a selfie camera, this involvement is paltry compared to ad campaign’s Twitter has executed with general market awards shows, which historically have trended less than or only slightly better than the BET awards. For example, this year there were almost 7.4 million Tweets about @BETawards and 13.4 million Tweets for the Grammy’s, 5.9 million about the Oscars, and 5.7 about the American Music Awards. While analysts say that Twitter’s ad business is struggling to grow, it has largely ignored the “Black Twitter” community.

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