Who Works In Silicon Valley?

May 29 2014 @ 5:13pm

You’ll find the whole spectrum of humanity, from white guys to Asian guys to – well, that’s about it:

The industry has been known to have a serious diversity problem. But on Wednesday, we got a peek at just how bad it is. Google released statistics about the make-up of its work force: Men and Asians are overrepresented, and women and blacks are drastically underrepresented as compared to the overall United States work force. Most startling: Just 17 percent of Google’s technical employees are women and just 1 percent are black. In the software industry over all, according to the Labor Department, 20 percent of engineers are women and 4 percent are black.

At the entire company, when nontechnical roles are included, women account for 30 percent of employees. That is 17 percentage points below the share of women in the work force, and about equal to women’s representation among lawyers, surgeons and chief executive officers.

This chart really drives the data home:


Alison Griswold adds, “In a blog post addressing the statistics, Google tries to defend its figures by putting them in a broader context”:

“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,” writes Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations. It’s a fair point: The systematic education barriers to increasing diversity in tech are great. But that doesn’t mean companies like Google can’t strive to do better. (Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has been among the prominent female executives to call for more women in tech.) Bock adds that Google is “miles from where we want to be” and wants to be more candid about its diversity issues.

While disappointed by the numbers, Victoria Turk cheers the company for disclosing them in the first place:

As the company admitted in a blog post, “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.” Hear, hear. While the numbers might not be too optimistic, it’s great to hear a tech company—especially one with the import of Google—at least own up to their record on diversity and recognize the need to improve.

And to be sure, Google is not the only tech company with this problem. As Josh Harkinson argues, Silicon Valley is “actually doing worse than it was a decade ago, diversity-wise”:

Google is far from the only Silicon Valley firm that has been tight-lipped about its demographics. Though large companies are legally obligated to report race and gender stats to the federal government, tech firms such as Google, Apple, and Oracle long ago convinced the Labor Department to treat the data as a “trade secret” and withhold it from the public. Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News sued the department to get the numbers. In 2010, following a two-year legal battle, he ultimately settled for stats for a handful of the Valley’s largest companies. Swift’s data went through 2005.

To get an update, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request a few months ago asking the Labor Department for its latest race and gender data on the top 10 firms. In order of largest to smallest by market capitalization, it now consists of Apple, Google, Oracle, Cisco Systems, Intel, Gilead Sciences, eBay, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, and VMware. When I reached out for comment, most of these companies didn’t get back to me. Google responded that it intended to make its stats public, as it now has.

The data I obtained provides some much-needed context for Google’s diversity numbers.

(Chart via Quartz)