Half-Assed Diversity

Blacks, Latinos, and women of any color have lost ground at Silicon Valley tech companies:
Hispanics and blacks made up a smaller share of the valley's computer workers in 2008 than they did in 2000, a Mercury News review of federal data shows, even as their share grew across the nation. Women in computer-related occupations saw declines around the country, but they are an even smaller proportion of the work force here.

...An analysis by the Mercury News of the combined work force of 10 of the valley's largest companies — including Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Cisco Systems, eBay and AMD — shows that while the collective work force of those 10 companies grew by 16 percent between 1999 and 2005, an already small population of black workers dropped by 16 percent, while the number of Hispanic workers declined by 11 percent. By 2005, only about 2,200 of the 30,000 Silicon Valley-based workers at those 10 companies were black or Hispanic.

The share of women at those 10 companies declined to 33 percent in 2005, from 37 percent in 1999. There was also a decline in the share of management-level jobs held by women.

"It's just disappointing," said Shellye Archambeau, the African-American CEO of MetricStream, a Palo Alto-based company that provides governance, risk and compliance support to global corporations such as BP and Pfizer. "The valley is a very strong place, but the fact that we are so lacking in female leadership, in African-American leadership, and frankly in Latino leadership in tech, you just sit there and say, 'Imagine what it could be.'"

...In Silicon Valley companies, men and women in technical careers are equally likely to hold mid-level jobs, but men are 2.7 times more likely than women to be promoted to a high-ranking tech jobs such as vice president of engineering, or senior engineering manager, Simard and Henderson found in a 2009 study.

...Aristotle Saunders, a 32-year-old Marvell engineer, volunteers with school kids in Oakland, dissecting iPods to interest them in a tech career. He thinks the lack of visible middle-class minority neighborhoods in Silicon Valley makes it even tougher to recruit minorities to tech jobs here.

"I sort of have that chameleon feel where I can fit in anywhere, but I can see where people raised in a black neighborhood would feel really uncomfortable," said Saunders, whose parents are African-American and Filipino and who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Southern California. "Even though Silicon Valley is based on a principle of meritocracy, where they value people based on their skills rather than their class or ethnic background, I think it's still a challenge."
One of the biggest flaws in a lot of the diversity programs championed in corporate America is that there is a disproportionate (and often exclusive) focus on diversity in hiring, the idea being that the biggest roadblock for marginalized people is just getting a foot in the door.

But corporate American culture still strongly privileges whiteness, maleness, straightness, cisness, able-bodiedness. When "diversity programs" don't include a concerted, comprehensive effort to undermine the kyriarchal culture of a firm, people hired in as part of a diversity program will continue to be marginalized.

While dudes bond over fantasy football leagues that are openly discussed in the workplace, their female colleagues are left on the margins. While dudes bond over drinks after work, their straight female colleagues are heading home to (still) do the lion's share of childcare (possibly while their male partners are getting a leg up at work by going out for a drink with their male coworkers). While dudes bond over the latest expensive tech gadgets, their female coworkers are stressing out about how to pay their bills, because they make as much as 30% less and have to spend a huge chunk of their paycheck on clothes, undergarments, shoes, make-up, and haircare to adhere to a beauty standard that doesn't apply to their male colleagues.

The communication habits of white men, treated by corporate America as the natural and best and only way to communicate, leaves people from backgrounds who didn't grow up speaking that language (literally and/or figuratively) feeling frustrated and excluded. White male colleagues who aren't aware that "the rules" of corporate America have been designed to suit them regard their not-whitemale colleagues as unqualified, as not understanding "how to play the game." Not-whitemales have a more difficult time getting their ideas heard, their concerns addressed. Not-whitemales who figure out how to speak the right language are promoted, thus reinforcing the cycle of non-diversity, even as diversity is hailed a hero.

These are the problems of half-assed diversity programs. And the result is that, 10 years after everyone was kissing Silicon Valley's ass for its embrace of diversity, the companies' inclusion is sliding backwards, especially at the top.

Diversity without multiculturalism is just hiring people who look different and expecting them to act the same. If these companies want to get serious about diversity, then they need to reflect that in their culture, not just their hiring records.

[H/T to Shaker Quercki.]

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