Aguilar: Silicon Valley has a major diversity problem

Google said Wednesday, May 29, 2014, that the Google said Wednesday, May 29, 2014, that the transparency about its workforce -- the first disclosure of its kind in the largely white, male tech sector -- is an important step toward change. Photo Credit: AP / Jens Meyer

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Congratulations to Google for owning up to its massive diversity problem, a problem that seems endemic in the Silicon Valley tech world.

Late last month, Google's senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, came clean. In a blog post titled "Getting to work on diversity at Google," he revealed that 70 percent of Google's employees were men, 60 percent were white, only 3 percent were Hispanic and only 2 percent were black. "It's time to be candid about the issues," he wrote.

Yes, it is! Bock tried to explain "why technology companies like Google struggle to recruit and retain women and minorities." He noted that "women earn roughly 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics each make up under 10 percent of U.S. college grads, and each collect fewer than 10 percent of degrees in computer science majors." But Bock, to his credit, acknowledged his company's shortcomings.

"We're the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be," he wrote.

It's time for other big tech firms - Apple, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo, among others - to follow Google's lead and release their own diversity figures. Then they all need to get serious about fixing the problem.

So what should these companies do? First, recognize that it's not just about computer science degrees. The lack of diversity extends to non-tech occupations like sales and marketing. There's more at work here.

And make clear that this is not just about feeling good or polishing the corporate image. Firms that omit whole segments of our society from their work force won't be able to compete in an increasingly diverse nation. They must change.

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A good beginning would be to set up a diversity council that includes key people from within the company plus outside voices with expertise on recruitment, retention and education. Then, the companies need to follow their own recommendations and implement those programs, not just fall back on the old boys' network.

The economic influence of any large company goes beyond its own workplace. These companies spend many millions of dollars buying goods and services from outside suppliers. They should see that some of their money goes to firms owned by women or people of color.

In California, utility and telecommunications companies have been doing just that for decades. They've learned that building a diverse supplier network opens the door to new markets and spurs competition among vendors, meaning they get better goods at lower prices. It's a win for everyone involved, but it takes some effort.

Silicon Valley's tech giants must recognize that transparency and positive words, while important, are just the start. They need to make a commitment to bring all Americans on board.

Orson Aguilar is executive director of the Greenlining Institute. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.

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