Facebook, Google and other hypocrites need to Lean In to some honesty about lack of diversity in hiring

OK, I’ll stipulate that tech companies get to fight tooth and nail to keep secret how awful they are at hiring women, blacks and Latinos.

And they do, according to CNN and the Mercury News.

But you know what? If they get to do that – as Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix, Twitter, Yelp, Zynga, Amazon, Groupon, Hulu, LivingSocial, Apple, Google, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Microsoft have done – then we get to criticize them mercilessly.

This time the companies are hiding their heads in the sand and their data in the company vault from CNN, which set out in 2011 to report the demographic make-up of big tech companies. The Mercury News, where I work, tried to do the same thing early in 2008 with similar results – or lack of results.

If the country’s biggest, best-known, most successful tech companies are unwilling to say even how many women they hire or how many of their workers are non-white, then we can assume the answer is not very many at all.

Is that fair? I think so. It’s no secret that the tech industry in general has a terrible, terrible record when it comes to hiring women, blacks and Latinos. There is no reason to suspect that these companies – companies that worked hard to keep their demographic data from the public – are any different. If they were, not only would  they not be fighting efforts for them to come clean, they’d be issuing press releases about what a fine job they were doing.

And why do many of these companies say they won’t be open and honest? Because if they told the world how many women, blacks and Latinos they hire it would put them at a competitive disadvantage? What?

It hardly inspires confidence that we have U.S. Labor Department regulators who actually bought this argument.

Here are what some people who are smart about this stuff had to say about the competition argument.

“Absolutely preposterous. Knowing how many white male sales workers a company has is a trade secret? Absurd,”  John Sims, a Freedom of Information Act expert and University of the Pacific law professor, told CNN. “Tech is the most vibrant sector of the economy, and rather than try to fix problems, they want to keep secrets.”

Tech is the most vibrant sector and the most hypocritical.

Take Google. Whatever happened to “information wants to be free?” Maybe they mean your information, as in “information we can scoop up with Street View cars ought to be free.” Or, “information we can use to push ads your way, ought to be free.”

What happened to “Don’t be Evil?” Falling down on the job when it comes to diversifying your workforce and then pretending like it never happened is evil.

Or what about Facebook? Sheryl Sandberg is over there Leaning In, evangelizing the very worthy cause of helping women get ahead in the world of business. Wouldn’t it be nice if she leaned into a little honesty and started the conversation by pushing her own company to tell the truth about its hiring?

I could go on. But for now I want to flip things around and praise Intel. Intel publishes its diversity record on its website.  Yes, they have a way to go when it comes to diversity, but they are talking about the problem and how they are going to solve it.

“Intel believes that transparency with our data is the best way to have a genuine dialogue,” company diversity officer Rosalind Hudnell told CNN. “ We are tech companies and data drives our business; we need to get beyond our fears that the numbers are a poor reflection on our individual organizations and work together to address the issue collectively.”


Oh, and here’s an interesting thing about Intel. Until recently, the company had a female board chair, Jane Shaw.

Something to think about.


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  • Eleanor Martinez

    Very interesting and, when it comes to LinkedIn, not a surprise. A friend of ours was in management at LinkedIn and had attended to the extensive logistics involved in President Obama’s visit there. He was supposed to be standing in a visible area behind the President, and, at the last minute, was asked to step aside and stand somewhere invisible. His crime? Being 60 years old.

    Not only are these companies hiding their blinding whiteness, they are also ageist as well. To this SIlicon Valley native, this is very disturbing. Here in Minnesota, it’s way worse. My husband has over 40 units beyond his Masters Degree and no one will give him a second look because of his Hispanic last name (also, Minnesotans don’t like minorities with California educations to their credit).

  • steve hammill

    To assert that companies have a “dirty little secret” is unfair unless you are privy to a great deal of certified data rather than anecdotal evidence.

    From my seat in the office, I am surrounded by women and people of all colors. …but that’s just the view from my seat.

    However, my boss has put the issue on his list of things to fix. So the view from my seat is relegated to anecdotal information.

  • I’d love to be privy to a great deal of certified data. Here’s the problem: A number of the biggest and best-known tech companies have done everything in their powers to hide that data. (And they’ve used a ridiculous argument to win the point.)
    Anyway, what I’m saying is that if these big companies aren’t going to be honest about who they hire, let’s just stipulate that they have something to hide. If they’d like to prove otherwise, let’s see the data.

    • steve hammill

      >>>A number of the biggest and best-known tech companies have done everything in their powers to hide that data

      There are no laws that make that compel the release of that information. There is certainly no Freedom of Information Act covering companies and corporations.

      The company attorneys probably advise them NOT to release the information.

      Just because you want to know, doesn’t entitle you to know.

  • Gary

    Let companies hire the best talent for the jobs they need filled! Companies in Silicon Valley are too busy to discriminate – they need talent! The don’t care what color or flavor it comes in….

  • Dave White

    Mike-I think you can add age discrimination to race regarding hiring at the major tech companies. The age cluster between 25-35 is profound. But I also think government at all levels is terrified of confronting the problem in this era of high unemployment. That these companies are hiring at all seems to give them a pass in the eyes of our regulators.

    • Don Tyler

      Dave —

      Agree with you on the age front (being in that “class” of worker). Yet I was recruited to a large public company with HQ outside the Valley because they wanted to acquire smart people to make an impactful presence here. And besides people with grey hair, we have a tremendous amount of women and people of color working at our site. Having come from the Doogie Howser-CEO start-up world, it was not only refreshing to encounter such diversity but surprising.

  • Dennis Farmer

    Seems to me that Jessie Jackson flew into town here a few years back singing the same song about no African American’s on Silicon Valley Tech companies, specifically Cypress Semiconductor. He left with his tail between his legs when the Cypress CEO, T.J. Rogers pointed out that color was not a category they looked at when seeking board members.. Rather is was years of Education, business experience and knowledge that would help the company.. Working in the tech industry isn’t a place where you can sweep people off the street who don’t know how to properly wear a pair of pants and put them to work in a job that would contribute to the company.. Most of the companies that I’m familiar with after working in the valley for over 35 years could care less about gender or skin color.. They care about employing people who can contribute to their revenue stream. Which should be lauded rather than criticized.. If you have a portion of the populace who’s most noted educational accomplishments is dropping out of school, they have no right to complain about the unavailability of engineering jobs..

    Companies in this valley exist solely for the purpose of generating a profit.. Absent that, the company does not long exist..

    • Actually, from my over 15 years covering the valley and visiting many, many tech campuses, I’d say not knowing how to properly wear a pair of pants is practically a prerequisite to getting hired.
      Dropping out is also a resume enhancer — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg.
      But all gently ribbing my engineer friends (and a few moguls) aside, what I’m talking about here is transparency. If the tech companies in question honestly can’t find qualified women, blacks and Latinos to hire, they should say so — and more importantly they should get to work on doing something about the lack of qualified candidates. Again, if that’s the case.
      Meantime, show us the data so we can start a reasonable discussion.
      And if companies exist solely for the purpose of generating a profit, then they should really get to work on diversifying their work forces. All kinds of studies show a diverse work force helps the bottom line.

      • Skrew Driver

        Mike, with all due respect, you mix up starting a company (which the ominous list consisting of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg) did, and getting hired at these companies. If you start a company and are successful, you make the rules. Getting hired is a totally different story. You don’t get to make the rules, you abide by them. As simple as that.

      • Dennis Farmer

        Mike, why should any company feel any need to be “transparent”? As long as no laws are broken and they are running a successful business who gives a rat if they don’t hire a high school drop out as their CTO.. Transparency is the catchword of the lefists to get elected and then ignored once in office.. Why would any rational human being attach that to running a business? You really think that this is an issue or just one to generate discussion on a non issue.. Want a job,, get an education.. Want to push a lawn mower, drop out.. pretty simple.. Comparing Bill Gates dropping out of school to start Microsoft to a gang banger dropping out of school to hang out is a bit of a push don’t you think?

      • Don Tyler

        As far as I know, Mike, public companies must collect EEOC data on candidates and hires/rejects. I know I had to supply HR with this data in the hiring process when I was at larger companies. I would think that there must be a way to access the EEOC data, perhaps under Freedom of Information Act.

  • Mike Johnson

    Really? The Race and Gender card? Wow…

    One could make the argument that it is systemic, even affecting our administration in DC: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/70-highest-paid-obama-white-house-staffers-are-men

    • I’m not sure that lack of diversity in the workforce is systemic. It certainly is the case in any number of fields. Fortunately, in some cases we are able to see the data and therefore begin to address the problem.

  • Mark B

    It appears honesty is in very short supply. Just a quick look at the staff at SilconBeat shows 10 men and 4 women and no blacks.

    You should immediately hire 6 women so your numbers are reflective of diversity. There should be at least 2 blacks and 3 hispanics. They don’t have to be qualified because you obviously just by care about the color of their skin (and genitals) and not the content of their qualifications.

    • Again, I’d say the beauty of SiliconBeat is that the composition of the staff is there for everyone to see — although you’re looking only at those who write for SiliconBeat, which leaves some folks out.

      • brian

        “and more importantly they should get to work on doing something about the lack of qualified candidates.” — What?? Why is it THEIR job to “do something” about the lack of qualified minorities? They run businesses, not mass social engineering projects. Successful businesses will hire the most qualified people in the pool of AVAILABLE candidates. It is in no way, shape or form their duty to make sure that pool resembles the UN. Perhaps minority leaders should get to work doing something about the lack of qualified candidates. That’s not racism, that’s realism. Those who cannot tell the difference will be left behind. Welcome to 2013.

      • brian

        Wow, what a weak response. In other words you are WORSE than most silicon valley tech companies. Dude, you got handed your lunch on this one…

  • Lucinda Hsu

    This op-ed is a load of cr*p and poorly researched. Don’t blame the tech companies for the lack of diversity when only blacks and Latinos only account for 7% and 4.8% of STEM majors which includes all science fields. I would postulate that it is even lower when you narrow the field to just engineering and computer science majors. Women, for example, earn 17% of engineering degrees. You can’t hire what doesn’t exist.

    If you want to “Lean In,” let’s get real and talk about the abysmal state of math and science education in the U.S. and the shocking level of proficiency in these areas for elementary students and among elementary school teachers.

    Let’s have some intellectual honesty here. If 90% of elementary school teachers are women, elementary education majors report the highest levels of math anxiety among all college majors, and only 73% of elementary teacher candidates fail the basic math proficiency skills test. It is well documented that female teachers pass on their math anxiety to their female students.Then we ought to really rethink who should be teaching math to elementary students. In other countries like Singapore, math in primary grades are taught by math teachers NOT generalists.

    Then you have the science problem. In CA, 40% of elementary teachers say they spend less than an hour per week on science. only 1/3 of elementary teachers say that they feel well prepared to teach science. only 10% of elementary classes provide hands on science. Less than half of elementary principals think that their students will receive a high quality science education. 3/4s of these elementary schools don’t have access to anyone that specializes in science. The schools that do have any sort of science education are going to be in the high performing school districts, certainly not the districts that serve the majority of the black and Latino students in CA.

  • Alan Smithee

    tech in NorCal used to be fun (say late 70’s through the 80’s) and PC’s were just becoming widespread and young and inspired folks loved to tinker with them and make cool and FUN products. Admittedly, backinaday it was mainly guys doing the tinkering but because NorCal was the way it was back then, there was ample room for any new players in that scene. As I saw it, back then, as long as you liked the tech and were obsessed and inspired enough by it, you were good to go. Later, THE SUITS (mainly from the East Coast) came in and that’s when the fun ended. Tech became co-modified and became commodity and monetary value above all else became important. So…the guys who are running the area NOW are those same people in pinstripes, slicked back hair, gold watches and rings. The reason they are hiding this stuff is because this is the way they do business back where they come from and frankly it’s none of your business. They do this all the way to the bank.

    Thanks for your article. Makes me feel like the liberalness is still extant in NorCal.

  • Joe A.

    From where I sit, at a big tech company in the valley, if they want a more diverse workforce, they should start hiring MORE white people.
    Joking aside, from the tech/engineering side, you should not be comparing the diversity percentages against the population as a whole. That’s not a fair comparison. You can’t hire people into engineering roles that don’t have any engineering training. Therefore, you should be looking at the diversity of engineering school graduates. When I went to engineering school, there were almost no women, blacks, or hispanics in my classes. 80% were asian. Therefore, the skewed composition of the people being trained for engineering creates a skewed pool of applicants for engineering positions.
    On top of that, a large number of my engineering collegues have actually been imported from India and China due to the lack of candiates that meet the very high bar that we have. In all truthfulness, among the engineering ranks in California, we have very few whites, very very few blacks, and latinos are almost non-existent. We do have quite a number of women though, but every woman that gets hired are not your typical girl. All the ones that get hired are very organized, highly logical, and have very straightforward personalities. (this typically means that when they give advice on dating and relationships, they generally have to preface everything by stating “I’m not like most women, so what I think isn’t typical.”)
    I think that the real concern should be to discover and address why women, blacks, and latinos don’t choose engineering as a major at the same rates as whites and asians. Leave alone the companies that don’t feel like exposing their diversity numbers. There are only very limited things they can do to change the numbers by themselves, and nobody is trying to be malicious.
    On top of that, this is a topic we should be talking about when companies are generally hiring. When a lot of companies are laying off people, they can’t lay people off based on gender and racial background to help balance out the diversity of their staff.

    • Laura

      Would the typical guy fit into the engineering world? If the answer is yes, then there’s an issue here.

  • Foo

    Come out banging pots and pans again on your mailing list, and we will be happy to unsubscribe.

    Between trade rag and used toilet paper there is a difference. Stick to the former.

  • Andy Graybeal

    As a daily walker up Mt. Google, I encounter a fairly good smattering of Google types on their breaks as well as observing them on their colorful bikes throughout the neighborhood. I haven’t noticed any particular lack of females or non-whites, although of the latter category, mostly Asian and Indian. Anecdotal, to be sure. But if there is no comparison to the population at large, maybe the problem needs solving at the root rather than the fruit. At the earliest stage, the things that contribute most to society need be ingrained when children are most receptive. I’m not saying math and science should dominate because it leaves out every other component of a well rounded population. I agree with Lucinda Hsu that math should be taught by math teachers. It takes commitment on the part of the taxpayers to see that education bonds are passed and money spent on good teachers and school needs. Spending time and treasure on youth can not only improve their chances in life but it can go a long way in solving many other vexing problems in society.

  • awfulorv

    When this “scathing” report surfaces, it’s likely these nasty companies will hasten to double, or triple, their minority hiring in short order.
    It would be the smart thing to do before Mr. Holder sticks his nose under the tent.
    Alas! It will then be re-discovered that the crop of intelligent Techies amongst these groups is as low as ever, and suitable hires will be difficult to find.
    And whose fault is that?
    It begins with teachers, and parents, who have not been able to inspire our young to study those courses most needed to insure success in this, or any field.

    Then there are the young themselves, but they’re primarily interested in buying illegal, and clamoring for legal pot sales, playing games on computers, and Jen’s new squeeze.
    The phrase “Chickens coming home to roost” seems appropriate at this time.

  • PeakOilAdvocate

    The argument that minorities missing STEM degrees keeps them out fails to explain
    why the few that do still are out in the cold. Many situations where a White male with a high school diploma is promoted over an Hispanic holding a BS degree in Engineering from an Ivy League school.