Wednesday, March 18, 2015

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Hi-Tech & Discrimination

(This opinion article is not really relevant to the primary topics of this blog – but shows a pattern that’s problematic for the future in the U.S.)

(USA Today)  The growing effort to get more African Americans and Hispanics to join tech companies or start their own is hitting the road, pushing beyond Silicon Valley into the rest of the nation.  Google is backing a new pilot program …in three cities.

That’s nice (so far).  Always good to offer people opportunities being positive and productive.

"There is no question that Silicon Valley is the epicenter of the tech world, and as such there's huge opportunity for impact on inclusion in tech," says Laura Weidman Powers… "However, working on diversity issues in Silicon Valley means going against the status quo," she says. "(It means) trying to change the ratio of employees at large companies, trying to bring inclusive techniques to established hiring practices and trying to infiltrate relatively closed, powerful networks."

Hmm, Silicon Valley and the tech world do “merit based” hiring, meaning (for the most part) they’re looking for and hire on the basis of the tech skills a person has.  Brain power and specific tech skills, which are what the companies need to succeed, are the primary, if not exclusive, drivers of hiring.  Even to the extent that many can enter hi-tech without a degree… as long as they have very strong tech skills in the needed areas.  Hiring people with the skills you need is not inclusive?

"…rather than trying to change what is, we are trying to shape what might be. In smaller tech ecosystems around the country, often the cultures and norms around talent and inclusion are not yet set. We have the opportunity to help these places bake inclusion into their DNA from the ground up," Powers says. "It's an opportunity to create whole ecosystems where we never see the divides we see in Silicon Valley."

I’m confused.  As a tech entrepreneur, I want to include the talent I need to be successful.  You want me to include non-talented or skill-less people?

Silicon Valley has never been diverse, but until last year, no one had any idea just how dominated by white and Asian men the tech industry here is.  In May 2014, Google disclosed that 30% of its workers are female and in the U.S. 2% of its workers are African American and 3% are Hispanic.  By the end of the summer, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and other major tech companies had followed with their own statistics, all of which showed the same lack of diversity.

"Releasing our numbers last year was a really important first step, and we were really happy to see other companies do that as well," says John Lyman, head of partnerships for Google for Entrepreneurs. "This is an issue that Google really cares about. We really believe that better products are created by a workforce as diverse as the people who use them."

You may “believe” that, but do you have any numbers to back up your “belief”?  Because so far Google seems massively successful by hiring people with the needed SKILLS.  Google has a history of hiring for skills and intelligence, so much so that they include brain teasers as part of the application process.  How is hiring for intelligence and skill in a tech company not “inclusive”? 

‘Well Akiva, you don’t understand.  We are all equal, and if Asian men are driven by their culture to focus on education and science and tech degrees and therefore have the skills that Google needs, then those Asian men need to be put in their 2% place in society and not be overrepresented in Google’s employee ratio just because their cultural background aligns them with Google’s skill needs.  Otherwise things aren’t equal.’

Riana Lynn, 29, an African-American, is founder of FoodTrace, a year-old tech start-up making new software tools to connect consumers, restaurants and distributors with local farmers.  Lynn graduated with a degree in biology and African American Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she taught herself to code.

From spending summers planting vegetables with her grandmother to working in first lady Michelle Obama's kitchen garden as a White House intern, Lynn says technology has given her a way to combine her interests in science and public health and the ability to fulfill her ambition of changing what people eat. The …Residency will give her more of an opportunity to help others tap the power of technology, she says.

"It's the perfect opportunity to take my company to the next level and continue some of the activities I am doing now," Lynn says.

It’s wonderful this person is finding success and being sponsored by Google to go further.  And the fact she taught herself to code shows that such skills can be acquired at a practical level for those who try.  But does anyone wonder why someone with a degree in African American Studies might not be a good fit for tech company Google?  How would it be non-diversive to feel an Asian man with a Computer Science and Physics degree would fit tech company Google’s skills need, and an African American Studies degree would not?

"There is a huge business opportunity being missed. How many ideas are not coming to market because of biases that are preventing people from being full and active participants in the innovation economy?"

The Venture Capital market is in the business of making money.  Anyone who comes with the right skills and ideas has a reasonable chance of getting funding and support (as reasonable a chance as any entrepreneur and business idea – which actually is not a very good chance unless the idea and team presenting it are exceptional).  In my experience VC’s don’t care what market ideas are targeted at, they care that the plan demonstrates solid opportunity, a solid plan to address it, and solid ability to execute.

Money is green (in the U.S. at least).  Green is not very diverse, but is very popular.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, societal improvement and 'diversity' is very important, but how do we get there: the easy way, do we hire the needy and 'believe' that this will bring culture change in these minorities OR should we (the hard way) start at the grade school level and encourage the under-represented sectors (females, Afro-Americans, Hispanics, etc...) to get more lofically-min oriented?

    My company in Israel is quite diverse. While the stereotype is to have a majority of (white) Ashkenazi, there is a very large number of ('black') Sepharadim. In fact, no one really knows off hand if you are white or 'black' and the workplace is diverse, including 'Russians' and religious, men and women (but less women) Nonetheless, there is a very low amount of ex-Ethiopians. And I think the reason is not because of racism but rather the lack of post computer/engineering/mathematics candidates from that sector which only numbers over a hundred thousand or so. I think that the youth growing up now are better integrated, but those in the 30s and 40s who were not born here or born to immigrants, did not and were not guided to the sciences.


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