Lack of Diversity in Tech Takes Center Stage This Summer
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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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.

[RELATED: Making STEM Diversity a National Priority]

“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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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.