The world rejoiced when Serena Williams joined the board of online polling service Survey Monkey. They know she hopes to address problems related to sexism and diversity in the Silicon Valley. On the heels of this, though, came another damning revelation. The Anita Borg Institute (established to help women land tech jobs) has cut ties with ride-hailing behemoth Uber. Last year, a former employer accused the company of fostering a culture of sexism, where well-performing male employees are protected. The internal investigation is ongoing.
Everyone knows Silicon Valley is white man’s land. Although firms that claim to work for society’s benefit call it their home, a deeply macho culture has become synonymous with the valley’s existence. According to The New Yorker, “African American and Latino workers fill only about five percent of technical roles in the industry, though they make up about 18 percent of computer-science graduates each year.” The article further stated that only about five percent of employees in executive roles are African American and Latino. African American and Latino workers as well as women of all races are likely to leave the industry within 10 years when the attrition rate for men is 17 percent.
Palantir, a $20 billion data analytics firm co-founded by Peter Thiel, an adviser to the US President, is paying $1.7m to settle a US government lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses the firm of adopting a hiring process that discriminates against Asians. The US Department of Labor has also filed lawsuits against Google and Oracle. While Google is accused of extreme gender pay discrimination, Oracle is on the firing line for allegedly discriminating against women, African American and Asian employees.
Diversity at Google
Howard University, a historically African American university, will open a campus at Google’s HQ in Mountain View this summer. Engineers employed with Google will be teaching these students. However, it is not clear if the program will open internships or job opportunities at the tech giant for these students. In 2015, Google committed $150 million to become more inclusive. The company, like the rest of the valley, is overwhelmingly Caucasian. African American employees account for only two percent and Latinos three percent as compared with 59 percent Caucasian and 32 percent Asian.
African American Women Underpaid
According to a recent study by job website Hired, men and women will only reach pay equity only in 2152. The statistics are staggering. Only five percent of the Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO. Only 20 percent of the US Congress is female. The survey found that 63 percent of the time women receive lower salary offers than men for the same job at the same company. This is only slightly higher than last year (69 percent). On average, women are offered four percent less than male applicants for the same role.
Gender bias affects access to opportunity as well. More than 50 percent of the time, companies interviewed only male candidates for a given role. Women were underrepresented in the interview pool two-thirds of the time. African American women earned 79 cents on the dollar to Caucasian men, which is twice as large as the gap between Caucasian men and Caucasian women. Overall, males of all races received higher salary offers than women with one exception: Caucasian women were offered two percent more than African American men.
The VC Club
Venture capitalists hold the keys to Silicon Valley. They claim to finance disruptive firms but there’s nothing disruptive about this clan of men. Only six percent of partners at venture-capital firms are women, down from 10 percent in 1999. This mirrors the investing landscape too. Only seven percent of American tech start-ups with women founders raised $20m or more. On an average, firms founded by women obtained less funding ($77m) than those founded by men ($100m).
The VC sector in Canada is also similar. A 2015 study by Toronto’s MaRS Data Catalyst reveals only 12.5 percent of investment roles at VC firms were held by women. Only eight women were partners in those firms, compared to 93 others who were men.
Frustrated with the lack of diversity in the tech world, Toronto-based Jessica Yamoah and Sarah Jumah recently launched Inclusive Innovation to connect entrepreneurs of colour with incubators. The pair is also conducting a diversity audit of the region’s biggest incubators — Communitech (Waterloo, Ontario), and Toronto’s DMZ and MaRS.
Even though study after study has emphasized the need for more diverse teams, Silicon Valley is still a white boy’s club. It’s time all the boys grew up!
Nithya Caleb | The Edge Blog