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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Earth to Tech Industry: Gender Diversity Also Includes African American Women

A Message to the People of Silicon Valley and Beyond:

As a Black woman entering the startup community, I feel like an alien landing on Earth for the first time (I come in peace!). In my career search, startups big and small constantly transmit messages of how diverse they are:
"We remain deeply committed to building a workplace that reflects a broad range of experience, thought, geography, age, background, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture and many other characteristics."- Facebook
These companies brag about their "initiated programs and developed partnerships" with youth coding programs, women in tech, LGBT groups and their extremely selective college internship program- and that's nice- but these tech companies need to realize that their gender and racial diversity initiatives rarely target African American women.

I know you Earthlings don't value objective opinions as much, so I'll drop some stats that are out of this world (see what I did there!).

Let's start with Facebook.
  • According to Facebook's 2015 demographic data, only 2 percent of its workforce is Black. Of that 2 percent, 1 percent work in tech, and only 2 percent in leadership roles. 
  • Women make up 32 percent of Facebook's workforce. 16 percent hold tech roles and 23 percent are in leadership positions.
"That doesn't sound TOO bad." Wait, it gets better! According to Facebook's EEO--1 report, Facebook employed only 29 African American women out of their workforce of over 5,400.

"Okay, that's just Facebook. Doesn't mean Black women are looked over!" Alright, let's check out example two: LinkedIn.
  • Globally, 17 percent of LinkedIn's workforce worldwide are women. 47 percent of women employees (worldwide) hold non-tech roles and 25 percent hold leadership positions. 
  • The kicker: only 1 percent of their US workforce is African American and only 1 percent hold a technical role. 
  • Digging deeper in LinkedIn's 2013 EEO--1 report, only 23 of their 3,300 employees were African American women and none of them held executive or senior official or senior management positions. None.
"But look at Google! They hired so many women in tech!" Well let's probe Google, shall we?
  • According to Google's 2014 EEO--1 report, 30 percent of Google's workforce are women and 18 percent are in technical positions. 
  • Out of a US workforce of over 32,500, Google employs 250 African American women, up about 2 percent from 2013. In comparison, 5009 White women are employed by Google, up about 43 percent from 2013. 
  • Most notable are Google's leadership numbers. African American women held only 60 first/mid official or managerial roles, compared to 1,622 of White women in similar roles. Additionally, there were no African American women in an executive, senior official, or senior management position.
I also checked out EEO--1 data and demographic reports from Twitter, Yahoo, Apple, Pandora, Amazon, Indiegogo, and several other companies that tell a frighteningly similar story. Where is the problem stemming from?

It's partially the result of Silicon Valley investors and startup executives' denial that racism in tech even exists. It's also, in part, the monolithic, misogynist culture entrenched in an inhospitable, White, male dominated workplace (generally speaking). Writer Erica Joy perfectly summed up her experience as a Black woman in the tech scene in succinct, eye-opening bullet points:
  • "I feel alone every day I come to work, despite being surrounded by people, which results in feelings of isolation.
  • "I feel like I stick out like sore thumb every day.
  • "I am constantly making micro-evaluations about whether or not my actions will be attributed to my being “different.”
  • "I feel like my presence makes others uncomfortable so I try to make them feel comfortable.
  • "I feel like there isn’t anyone who can identify with my story, so I don’t tell it.
  • "I feel like I have to walk a tightrope to avoid reinforcing stereotypes while still being heard.
  • "I have to navigate the expectation of stereotypical behavior and disappointment when it doesn’t happen (e.g. my not being the “sassy black woman”).
  • "I frequently wonder how my race and gender are coloring perceptions of me.
  • "I wonder if and when I’ve encountered racists (the numbers say it’s almost guaranteed that I have) and whether or not they’ve had an effect on my career.
  • "I feel a constant low level of stress every day, just by virtue of existing in my environment.
  • "I feel like I’ve lost my entire cultural identity in effort to be part of the culture I’ve spent the majority of the last decade in."
What tech companies are missing is the intersectionality of their diversity initiatives. For every company I mentioned in this post, each company that provided a visual summary of their demographic data didn't publish information that depicted the intersections of two or more self-identifying characteristics, i.e. race and gender, or sexual orientation and race, sexual orientation and leadership roles, etc.

To be fair, companies that publish their EEO--1 reports are following the US government reporting requirements - but shouldn't companies so dedicated to improving their diversity attempt to go above and beyond the call of duty to reinforce that goal? Why is diversity boiled down to the number of employees sorted by race or gender? Do these numbers accurately speak to a company's diversity and culture?

I challenge all citizens of the tech industry to stop with the half-assed promises of diversity and start changing these numbers ASAP!

*End of transmission*

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