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Posted under: Technology News

New Study Suggests Silicon Valley's Diversity Problem Is Getting Worse, Not Better

The study found that the number of black women in tech declined 13 percent between 2007 and 2015.

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When we talked with Facebook's global director of diversity, a few months ago, she stressed that things were getting more diverse at the company, pointing the number of black people in non-technical roles rising a few percentage points.

Despite the sunny picture she painted, the fact remains that tech is very white.

Facebook, for instance, is three percent black; just one percent of its technical talent is black.

A new report from the nonprofit organization Ascend Foundation, Hidden In Plain Sight, suggests that tech may be becoming less and not more diverse, especially at the managerial and executive levels.

The study examined the marginalization of people of color in the tech field from 2007–2015, and the findings are grim.

 “There have been no changes for Asians or any other minority over time – men or women,” said the study's co-author Buck Gee.

And that happens when you take Asian workers out of the same group, and just look at other people of color? According to Gee, “It’s actually worse.”

It may seem strange. There is a perception among many that the tech world is full of Asian people. 

The Guardian reports that there is some truth to that; according to the paper, Asian workers outnumber white workers at entry level positions.

However, although Asian people are the most likely to be hired, the study found that they are the least likely group of people to be promoted. Frustrated that others are being promoted while they remain at entry level positions, Asians like Qichen Zhang, who once worked at Google, quit.

“I didn’t see a lot of women, especially Asian women, black women or other women of color in the executive ranks...I didn’t see any opportunities for myself," Zhang told The Guardian. "The culture there is really discouraging, and that’s ultimately why I left.”

Photo: Ascend Foundation
Photo: Ascend Foundation

There was some good news when it came to black and Latinx advancement.

The study found that the numbers of black and Latinx executives increased slightly over the eight year span of the study.

Photo: Ascend Foundation
Photo: Ascend Foundation

However, with that good news comes this bad news: those eight years also brought an 18 percent decrease in black managers.

There was also a huge exodus of black women. The number of black women in the tech industry declined a whole 13 percent. 

Why did all those black women leave?

“If people think they are being unfairly treated in companies, they’ll leave,” said Gee. “That’s a problem for Silicon Valley.”

That's certainly the case for one former black female Google specialist, who told The Guardian that racism and prejudices negatively affected her time at the company.

“I felt like I didn’t belong nor did anybody want me to belong,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said. She cited times where other employees would ask for her identification on campus to make sure she was actually a Google employee, times when she had to listen to racist jokes and noted that she was the only black woman on her team. 

As far as speaking up, she said that Google wasn't the safe space for that. When she tried to talk about diversity, she said she faced a lot of push-back.

“They didn’t like the way you’re prioritizing diversity, because that’s not your role,” she said.

She also touched upon the pressures to conform to the "Googliness" of company culture. She won a spot interviewing future employees and found that those doing the hiring seemed to say that minorities were rarely thought to have enough "Googliness" to come aboard.

"It seems like we are interviewing people to fit in with white people, and not to interview everyone to make sure they are culturally competent,” she continued.

Denise Peck, another of the study's authors hopes that tech companies begin to do more to make stories like those the anonymous black woman and Zhang things of the past. 

“The problem will not just solve itself,” Peck said.

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