Surprise! Silicon Valley Doesn’t Employ Minorities

Research Mercury News put out a couple weeks ago regarding the lack of minorities in Silicon Valley has sent a ripple through the tech community.  To give you a brief overview it generally outlines statistics that we all pretty much know:  Lack of entrepreneurship by minorities in Silicon Valley and the lack of minority employees in Silicon Valley.  When laid out statistically the findings are…well..sad and disappointing.  Particularly nuggets from the article like these:

…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.

Of the 5,907 top managers and officials in the Silicon Valley offices of the 10 large companies in 2005, 296 were black or Hispanic, a 20 percent decline from 2000, according to U.S. Department of Labor work-force data obtained by the Mercury News through a Freedom of Information request.

In 2008, the share of computer workers living in Silicon Valley who are black or Latino was 1.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively — shares that had declined since 2000. Nationally, blacks and Latinos were 7.1 percent and 5.3 percent of computer workers, respectively, shares that were up since 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Between 1999 and 2005, Hispanics were a declining share of the work force in a majority of the 10 large Silicon Valley companies analyzed by the Mercury News — slipping to 5.2 percent of all workers at the 10 companies in 2005, from 6.8 percent in 1999. The black share of the work force at the 10 companies dropped to 2.1 percent, from 2.9 percent.

Whats even more interesting is a guest post over on TechCrunch by Vivek Wadhwa expanding on some of the thoughts in the Mercury News article, specifically how it relates to Indians.  He is also referenced as an expert in parts of the original article by Mercury News.  While I agreed with most of the thoughts there, this statement particularly concerns me:

Is the Valley deliberately keeping these groups out?  I don’t think so.  Silicon Valley is, without doubt, a meritocracy.  In this land, only the fittest survive.  That is exactly the way it should be.  For the Valley’s innovation system to achieve peak performance, new technologies need to constantly obsolete the old, and the world’s best techies need to keep making the Valley’s top guns compete for their jobs.  There is no room for government mandated affirmative action, and our tech companies shouldn’t have to apologize for hiring the people they need. But at the same time, without realizing it, the Valley may be excluding a significant part of the American population that could be making it even more competitive.  False stereotypes may be getting in the way of greater innovation and prosperity.

Why is Affirmative Action okay in every other industry and region but somehow when we take into account Silicon Valley it should be ignored.  Bogus.  As I’ve mentioned many times before there is no innovation without diversity.  Caroline Simard from the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology echoed this though in the article:

“If everybody around the table is the same, the same ideas will tend to come up. If you have a diversity of race, gender, age, educational and different life experiences, people will attack a problem from different perspectives, and that will lead to innovation.  In an industry that thrives on innovation, like high tech, it’s especially important.”

In terms of entrepreneurship I think many minorities are calling Silicon Alley and other areas along the Eastcost home to their ventures.  While I couldn’t find any public data to support this (outside of knowing where many of the audience that visits this site comes from) if this is infact the case Silicon Valley could face a real threat from strat-up’s based outside of the area.  This would require the same type of vibrant community The Valley is known for.

Speaking of community I found an organization Wadhwa mentioned in his article fascinating and much needed.  The organization is called TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs):

Their mission was to give back to the community by fostering entrepreneurship.  They would hold monthly events, teach entrepreneurship, and provide mentoring and support.  And they would facilitate Indian-style matchmaking between entrepreneurs themselves and with investors and corporate partners.

Organizations such as TiE are very much needed for all minorities in order for them to succeed, even if only for those who participate to be able to draw from a knowledge bank that would otherwise go untapped.  Needless to say I strongly believe in the value organizations such as these can give.  This is one of the main reasons this spring we’ve decided to partner with Innovation Generation to have our first conference, The New Media Entrepreneurship Conference.  My goals for the conference are to:

  • Facilitate open discussion about how to increase the likelihood of success of minority start-ups in new media.
  • Formulate an action plan to increase the number of minority new media start-ups and increase the number of successful start-ups that survive.
  • Develop a policy framework for advancing and stimulating the growth of minority new media start-ups.

We hope to achieve these goals by focusing on 3 core issues that minorities face when embarking on entrepreneurship in the new media space:  Accesing Capital, Growth Strategies, and Mentorship.

Many of you know how much I like to go to conferences, they are informative however I’ve noticed they often lack any follow through in the concepts that are discussed.  This is what will set The New Media Entrepreneurship Conference apart.  Based on the discussions at the conference (really more like a think tank) I’d like to see an action plan come out of it so that we can see some real change in how minority entrepreneurs are succeeding and surviving in the landscape.  I am totally interested in hearing your thoughts and comments on this however I’d like to get back to the topic at hand first.

Do you think it is necessary for Silicon Valley to be diversified, if so what are some ways to go about doing this?  Is Affirmative Action really the way to go?



LacWill says:

First and Foremost, African-Americans need to have a sense of purpose as a result of being connected to God! With God, all things are possible!!

Phil says:

30 to 40 percent of Silicon Valley workers are from China or India.
They are minorities so that makes the statement that Silicon Valley
does not hire minorities false.

omgracism says:

Weird how homogenous Japan is just that innovative…

Rickyeng says:

Silicon Valley Doesn’t Employ Minorities? Asians are a Minority. I am a minority “Filipino American”. I have worked in Silicon Valley for 30+ years. From start ups to mid to large tech companies. There are many Asians in Silicon Valley. Many of the tech positions require specific areas of education or equivalent experience. It has been my experience that opportunities are there if a person has a positive attitude, is willing to learn and work hard. I have held positions as Designer, Manager / Director for many years.

mikeydigital says:

Here is the audio I promised: http://bit.ly/8Z3udE

Anonymous says:

In my experience of having lived in the Silicon Valley, worked there and interviewed job candidates there, I can only re-iterate that it is a meritocracy. We look at CVs and the accomplishments, irrespective of the name or origin of people. Then we possibly invite the candidates in for interviews. Having lived there for seven years and having interviewed many, many candidates, I can count on one hand the number of black ones that we saw. If they would have sent in their CVs we would have considered them just like everyone else. But there were hardly any CVs forthcoming from black candidates, or at least, good enough CVs to make it to the next round of interviews. We were desperately trying to find good people and we absolutely would not have discriminated against anyone.

I also took courses at university (for a Masters in Computer Engineering). Do you know how many black students I saw during my time there? None! Not a single one in any of my classes. At the same time, those classes were FULL of Indians and Chinese students.

No surprise then that for any open job there was always a large percentage of Asian candidates and also eastern Europeans. Many times I found that white Americans were a minority. Definitely less represented as in the general population. Does this mean that we should start affirmative action for white people, because they were relatively underrepresented? I don't think so.

In general, I think in a field such as this (technology, engineering, invention) where success depends on your inherent skills and merit more than most other fields any kind of affirmative action is a disservice.

From my experience, technology is probably one of the least racially biased fields in their hiring decisions. If you are black, white or pink with green dots: As long as you have the talent and skills you will have the same kinds of chances as any other candidate.

Carrie says:

It's a false argument to say “it's all about the education.” I know of women and minorities that have their Masters degree or great experience, and after a layoff, they cannot get another mid-career or leadership role. Even with their few numbers. What happens is they go in to interview, and often with technology teams, the team gets to weigh in. And somehow, a woman leading an all man team or a minority guy leading a team of most white or mostly indian will not be hired for vague reasons. In silicon valley and tech, whenever the team gets to be mostly white or mostly indian or mostly asian, they hire like. this happens to white guys too. If it is an all indian crew, they bias towards hiring the indian dude, even if they are American-Indian citizens, and by the way, once a company starts down a path of H1-Bs, they seek to hire H1-Bs for that crew, and will never consider a citizen seriously. I'm sure that kids looking at majors consider that fact. Why train for a coding position when it's like preparing to be a factory worker in Detroit? Because companies don't hire citizens first, as the law requires, it is a self-fulfilling loop that fewer students are interested in being code monkeys. They can see that their parents got more education and certifications, and it didn't help much at all as they got older.

It is not true that Silicon Valley is all on merit. Or that it is due to education. In fact, there are MANY jobs that are not code jobs and people currently hold those positions with business degrees or other degrees. So to measure only on how many computer science majors are graduated is false. What about those jobs? Do you really think that all the board members and executives spent their time coding? All of them? Really? Nope, they don't promote minorities. And it's a self-fulfilling loop – what opportunity do you offer minorities?

And what about all the underemployed women and minorities who are mid or later career in technology that can't get work now? When there is an opening for leadership, why are they never considered?

“Offer online math and science education, supplemented with volunteering by engineers and financial people.” This is a very good idea! My daughters school system has online learning however the courses are limited. If someone were to start something like this they'd just need to have a focused effort of going to inner city schools to get the people who really need it to use it. Then again if those people have no access it is back to square one again. Navarrow also always makes a good point, nothing really seems sexy about tech…not like entertainment and sports. The youth need exposure to people who are getting the same kind of money through fields like technology, if not more money than athletes and entertainers.

The big challenges are poor local schools where Blacks and Latinos live and the flight of poorer people (whites and others included) due to rising costs of living in the SF Bay Area. First, we need to establish more charter schools in poor areas. How to do this with state budget cutbacks? Offer online math and science education, supplemented with volunteering by engineers and financial people. Second, offer more telecommuting and remote offices so qualified minorities outside of Silicon Valley can work for valley companies. Where there's a will, there are many ways. Let's get creative and develop plans that can be implemented nationwide. We cannot afford to lose the next generation of young people, especially since they will be the majority of American workers.

mikeydigital says:

@navarrowwright –> made some very valid points. I'm glad we're having this discussion because it's a discussion that we need to continue to have. This issue is very complicated and of course won’t be solved in one discussion, but let me point out a few things:

The article points out a specific (and valid) reason as to why Asian Americans benefit the most in Silicon Valley. Case in point, go to http://bit.ly/b0evsS and look at the enrollment of Asian Americans at U.C. Berkeley iSchool (technology school). The truth of the matter is these companies in Silicon Valley recruit specifically from the schools (i.e. Stanford, UC Berkeley) that just so happen to have majority Asians and majority white American students in their computer science department.

What bothered me most about the article is the fact that some of these high-tech companies fought tooth and nail to make sure the data about their hiring weren’t released. What do they have to hide if they’re really living the diversity section on their website? As I've mentioned before here regarding this issue, these companies are aware of the problem and have alluded to it (I'll post a link to the audio shortly to prove it to you), but have they did anything to fix it? If we go based on the numbers presented in the article the answer is no, at least in Silicon Valley.

As a minority tech community we can do our part with sparking the interest of our generation (gen y.. and x if it applies to you!) and the generation coming after us to start developing IT skills early. But we will never see true results (in terms of representation in these organizations) until we start holding these organizations accountable to stay true to the diversity statement they like to splash on their website.

Bottom line, is the reason really that they can’t find enough qualified blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and women? Or does it come down to H1B visas and statements such as the below?

“Google believes more H1B visas should be made available in order to lure the best foreign talent to work in the USA, arguing that overseas workers have shaped the IT industry.” Source: http://bit.ly/dk37Fr

Mikey Digital
Founder/Lead Developer
Noire Digerati & Digerati Labs

navarrowwright says:

I'm not crying foul. I'm speaking reality and yes I'm biased because I care about the plight of Black people because I am one and I care about the plight of Blacks and Hispanics because we are both minorities who are underserved in the US. Using the same data you referenced above blacks and Hispanics are the only groups who are below 10%. For you to say White Americans are the big users is funny to me. Who is crying foul? I've been to Silicon Valley and White America is there. The reality is the American education system does need to be changed but for you to not recognize that the position Blacks and Hispanics is not more of an issue is kind of silly Andy.

Andy says:

You comment and others seem cry foul but in this case I think it's you who is biased. Rereading the Mercury News story I come to a different conclusion. It you look at the national average compared with the national average you get: Blacks: -5.6% Hispanics: -0.6% Asians: +38.4% White: -32.7%.

Clearly is if there is a loser here it is the American Education System. With such low numbers of Blacks & Hispanics in IT nationally you don't need a to feel a victim over this one. Silicon Valley recruits globally, and if anyone is loosing out it's white Americans.

It is possible to get work in technology firms by being industrious and creating products/applications. I can think of cases where people from Europe have ended up working in the Valley because they wrote some software for something. That isn't selection on race.

navarrowwright says:

Ok anonymous. We talking about black and Hispanics (so now your clear). We all understand that there are not as many skilled blacks and Hispanics in IT because of the socio-economic problem but the issue is that “not as many “does not mean “not any” and in the Valley they are virtually non-existent especially at start-ups. I know because I’ve been there and even had VC's tell me that recognize that it's an issue. So if you don't recognize that your only lying to yourself. The reason for this post is here to start the dialogue and who knows someone may read this and say they are going break this “stereotype” and get the skills they need to do it. Or even bigger accomplishment is this audience recognizes that we need help our youth build the skills to break this mold in the future.

navarrowwright says:

That's a nice thought but sadly it will not happen. First because the government or any regulatory body can't move fast enough to make any impact. Second, sadly it's accepted as the norm that inner city minorities (black and hispanics) are not in these roles currently. So in order for it to change it has to change at a social level. We have to encourage minority youth to explore these skills at a young age. We have to do it ourselves.

Hungry says:

It's “black-and-white” because it only thinks about blacks and Hispanics and women as minorities. The issue is much more complex than your not only sensational but _incorrect_ title states. Silicon Valley hires plenty of minorities but the vast majority are Asian American.

Where did I say that you shouldn't comment about your personal experiences? I'm saying you are ignoring the fact that Asian Americans are just as minority as you are (obviously facing very different kinds of discrimination) and you are disrespecting them by having a title that implies otherwise. Your title doesn't make any sense if you consider Asian Americans minorities.

Here's the title that reflects the facts: “Surprise! Silicon Valley Employs Low Numbers of Blacks, Hispanics, Women”

I do think something should be done abt this. AA could be the 1st step —as some type of regulatory body of authority should be involved – but the effort should go beyond that…with professional orgs, corporate mentor programs and internships targeted towards minorities. These companies always make a superficial effort but never follow through, they always have the “not technical enough” excuse, which we know is a lie.

My title “Surprise! Silicon Valley Doesn't Employ Minorities” is in no way black or white only so I'm not sure how you came to the conclusion that it is.

My words above are reflective of the report Mercury News issued…have you read it? If not you should take a look, it is linked above. Unfortunately to report doesn't go into data on immigrants from other countries (Europe as you've mentioned), and it just touches on Asians. My words are also reflective of personal experiences from my self and others, I am a women and I am African-American. Thanks for commenting.

Who said anything about being racist? I really don't think that came up once in this whole discussion. I see this discussion being less about being racist and more about the lack of minorities that are either employed or entrepreneurs in this industry resulting in a lack of innovation.

Great points, especially regarding the cost of living in the Valley.

Vivek, Thanks so much for coming over here to comment first and foremost.

So in regards to Affirmative Action it sounds like what you are really saying is government (or government programs) can't react fast enough to have an effect on industries (like technology) that change quickly? If so I don't disagree with this. In the conference we are planning we are really trying to bring all parties to the table, including government.

The TiE program is awesome and I am so glad you included it as an example, I had never heard of them and think it is an excellent model to be followed. Additionally, the examples you gave of discrimination in your story were just plain sad. I hate that you had to hire a white CEO just to be taken seriously enough to get investment. That mentality really needs to change in our industry especially since so many of us preach transparency, inclusiveness, and innovation.

I am in no way suggesting the companies in the Valley hire people who are less qualified. What I am saying is they might have to go beyond their backyard to recruit these individuals, whomever does it…executives or HR. I just disagree that minorities (racial and gender) aren't qualified. I am both and am highly offended by that but to my earlier point I don't live in the Valley and 98% of the entrepreneurs I meet through this site don't either, so leadership in the Valley if they are truly interested in being innovative need to recruit outside of the Valley. And to be frank it shouldn't be like pulling teeth to have a staff that reflects more than one race.

“After all, they are as smart and even more motivated.” I concur! 🙂

Thx again for commenting!

Great article. So glad this topic is finally getting discussed openly in Silicon Valley and tech circles in general. There are many many qualified, smart and top notch African-Americans in tech. The idea that there the way we'd find out about discrimination is that there would be a YouTube video of someone bitching about not getting hired is just bizarre. If anyone did that, there'd be a huge chorus of people telling that person to stop complaining/playing the race card/etc. etc.. There is no question there is discrimination in hiring. I don't know whether existing affirmative action programs are the answer or if we need to use our innovative skills/thinking to improve the situation some other way, or both. All I know is we need to start figuring this out or we'll lose our edge here in SV. I've been actively seeking (and having no trouble finding) a diverse group of women to interview on my podcast TechnoGirlTalk (http://technogirltalk.com). They have all been absolutely brilliant and fascinating, and are doing really innovative work in tech. Quite often they're bringing a social conscience to their work. Anyone who says it's hard to track down these folks is making excuses.

barryfandango says:

It's a free market. Why don't you open a business in Silicon Valley, employ a mandated proportion of minorities, and sit back while your company dominates the industry with your unpredendented innovation?

sergeir says:

Look, in the tech world, nobody gives a damn what color you are. You could be a green one footed monkey. If you can code like a mofo, I will hire you. It is a pure meritocracy.

Anonymous says:

Quoting Max Klien on HN <http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1143313&gt;:

“That's utter nonsense. The reason blacks and hispanics are not employed in silicon valley is that there are not as many skilled in IT blacks and hispanics as there are from other races in the United States.
Whatever the reasons are, it is a socio-economic problem, it's not a problem caused by any form of systematic discrimination in silicon valley.
I do not believe that I have ever seen any youtube video of a black person complaining about how he is fighting to get a job in silicon valley, but nobody is hiring him, even though he has a great number of projects online and everyone agrees his code is great.
It IS a meritocracy. If you put a bunch of bad black programmers in silicon valley and expect them to learn the tools on the job, then this will be an even greater disservice to the black community – as it would result in a negative stereotype about the quality of 'black programming'.”

And of course, there ARE alot of minorities in the tech industry of Silicon Valley — mostly those of Asian backgrounds like from India, Korea, China, Japan, and Indochina. TiE itself is geared at Indians in principle, hence the “Indus”.

Hungry says:

Excuse you–you're title is an insult to all the non-black and non-Hispanic minorities here in our country. Your photo seems to acknowledge a spectrum of color, but your title and words do not. The debates about color and about discrimination have long been dangerously black-or-white, and a blog that aspires to talk about progress should rise above that. I acknowledge the leading roles that the black leaders before us played to fight for civil rights, not just for blacks, but for all minorities, but we cannot leave our debate mired in the old outdated terms.

Look–the employment numbers of blacks and Hispanics are a big problem–and it's an important issue to talk about. But obviously the Asian Americans are minorities, and the many first and second generation immigrants from Eastern Europe are all minorities (though facing a unique kind of discrimination). To ignore them is quite dangerous, as we remember from the LA Riots. Let's have some complexity to our discussion on important issues, shall we?

Honger says:

If employing minorities gives a competitive advantage, then why don't companies employ them?

I mean – are you really implying that ALL of these companies are more racist than they are capitalist? That they are willing to reduce their chances of success in favor of being racist? ALL OF THEM?

Nah. I don't believe it.

Jay says:

So what are we going to do about it?

sunnygrrl says:

Wow, very disturbing statement from Wadhwa. First, it's common practice when people of color complain about lily-white spaces that this idea of “meritocracy” is invoked. This is problematic, as it assumes that the complainants are “unqualified” minorities looking for a hand-out. Second, it obscures the ways in which having access to certain networks actually…works. Third, it absolves companies of the responsibility, if they are in fact looking to be the most innovative, to seek out people, ideas, and resources that will help them achieve that.

I have encountered the same arguments in higher education–that minorities aren't in certain rarefied spaces because qualified ones just don't exist. Quite simply, it's a cop-out. Companies have a responsibility and an obligation to seek out the best. This means looking for people they might not “see” (darn that whole invisibility/hypervisibility that affects us minorities). It means going into places that they do not normally go. It means speaking with folks who do not come from their own well-connected spaces (networks). Companies have to do the leg-work. Invoking meritocracy before retreating into a cozy cocoon of whiteness is just lazy.

Although Wadhwa concedes that “false stereotypes” may be a problem in the Valley, his statement does not go far enough, and really, is undermined by his raising of the Affirmative Action issue.

Another issue that was raised in this article by not adequately addressed is one of cost of living in the area and population shifts. The numbers might also be lower because there are fewer blacks and latinos living in the Valley areas. Another issue that should be raised is the reluctance of some folks to step outside of their comfort zones and relocate for employment. Lots of responsibility to go around.

I do agree with Angela that we need to start forming networks that are about providing support, mentoring, education, and access to resources.

Thanks for starting the conversation.

Sonya Donaldson
Editor-at-Large, Technology
Black Enterprise Magazine

Ph.D. Candidate, English Language and Literature
University of Virginia

vivek wadhwa says:

Angela, you make some very good points. I agree whole-heatedly that diversity is essential for greater innovation. In my previous post on women: http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/07/silicon-valley…, I started with a reference to Richard Florida's work which said precisely this.

The point is that we need to change things fast. Affirmative action will not work in the rough and tough Silicon Valley world where companies and technologies are obsoleted every 5-10 years. The companies will be out of business before the programs have a chance to make an impact. That is the way it is in the tech world.

The example I cited about TiE and Indians shows that by providing disadvantaged people with mentoring, encouragement and support, you can make magic happen. “My people” (as I explain in the article you are referring to) also faced discrimination. (This discrimination was nothing like what African-Americans have faced, but was significant never-the-less). They overcame it by helping those behind them.

Instead of requiring Silicon Valley CEOs to hire people who may be less qualified than what they need, we should encourage them to personally teach and mentor minorities (and women) and to provide the support these groups need to become qualified. They need to take a personal responsibility rather than handing this off to their HR departments. This is the type of responsibility that members of TiE took. And look at the results — 15.5% of tech startups in the Valley have Indian founders. “We” aren't looked at as just low-level tech workers any more. All of this happened within about 20 years.

I believe that other communities can learn from these examples and achieve similar success. After all, they are as smart and even more motivated.


Vivek Wadhwa
Visiting Scholar, UC-Berkeley
Director of Research, Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization and Exec in Residence, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
Senior Research Associate, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School
Columnist, BusinessWeek, Contributor, TechCrunch
Research: http://www.GlobalizationResearch.com, Downloads: http://ssrn.com/author=738704
Twitter: http://twitter.com/vwadhwa

Rahsheen says:

That quote from TechCrunch is quite disturbing to me as well. Seems to imply that minorities aren't able to keep up as far as tech goes. Sounds like a load of crap to me.

“If everybody around the table is the same, the same ideas will tend to come up.” Haven't we seen this over and over? How many truly innovative ideas have we seen in recent years? Everything that *is* actually new just gets copied to death. This is why I often get frustrated with the tech world. It is often just a huge circle-jerk (to borrow a phrase often used by @stevenhodson). Maybe the lack of diversity is part of the reason.

I wold also venture to say that some of the really interesting ideas that have come up recently were led by minorities, but I haven't done my research on that so I won't get too specific. 🙂

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