Top 3 Reasons We Need to Improve Diversity in Tech Now

March 10, 2015

7:00 am

At this year's SXSW Interactive, Google for Entrepreneurs is holding a session on Diversity in Tech, a discussion on the need to diversify the tech ecosystem. The panel is created on behalf of Rise of the Rest Road Trip, a joint initiative between UP Global, Revolution, and Google for Entrepreneurs. Make sure to come by Monday, March 16 at 11AM; the event will be held in Salon D at the Hilton Austin Downtown.

When Google released its diversity report last summer, many people were shocked to find that one of the world's leading tech companies fails to hold up to its seemingly high reputation with diversity. Yet, for some (especially those already involved in the tech industry), the findings that 70 percent of Google's workforce were comprised of men or that 61 percent were white were shocking in the least; the mere fact that such a report had only just then become known to the world was really the most glaring shock factor. The world of tech is still very much a white, male world, and there are many reasons why we need to really start pushing for improvements in the way we think about and approach diversity in tech.

Google Diversity

When Google released its diversity report last May, its numbers conveyed the much needed reform to ameliorate the glaring issues with diversity in the tech industry. (Google)

Diversity in tech is extremely lacking, as can be seen in the numbers of the industry's major players. To Google's credit, it led a movement encouraging other major tech companies to release their diversity stats – it pushed the topic of diversity from a rarely-discussed innate problem to a main conversation in Silicon Valley. And the numbers from other tech companies weren't at all that much better – with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn showing similar numbers within its ranks (LinkedIn had the most promising numbers, showing a 53 percent white- and 61 percent male-workforce).

LinkedIn Diversity in Tech

Of all the large tech companies that released their diversity numbers last summer, LinkedIn's numbers were the most promising, reaching nearly 50/50 racial and ethnic diversity (50 percent white, 50 percent non-white), and comprising of nearly 40 percent women. (Daily Dot)

But even on the tech startup level, diversity in tech remains a major issue: it's still a very male-dominated world. I mean, last summer, Y Combinator president Sam Altman even admitted that sexism is rampant in tech – that women are not only underrepresented, but also discriminated against within the tech industry. Looking at the issue from a venture perspective, we find that there's a huge racial disparity in startup backing. According to a 2010 CB Insights report, 83 percent of all venture-backed companies were led by white founders, 12 percent were led by Asian founders, and a staggering less than one percent were led by Black founders.


An overwhelming of startups backed by venture funding are led by white founders, while less than 1 percent of startups are led by black founders. (CB Insights)

Indeed, the numbers seem grim, but that doesn't mean that the tech industry isn't doing anything or is failing to recognize these flaws. Hardly – larger companies like Etsy have focused specifically on prioritizing diversity within their engineering ranks by providing grants for women to participate in Hacker School, which ultimately resulted in a 400 percent growth in terms of women engineers on their team. And then there are various initiatives and organizations that have developed organically as a result of this demand for diversity in tech, such as CODE2040, which places high-performing Black and Latino software engineering students in internships with top tech companies. But, even then, we need to be doing more to increase diversity in tech, and there are five reasons why we need to jump on it immediately.

1. Blacks and Hispanics Will Soon Make Up 50 Percent of the U.S. Population

CODE2040 was founded on the prediction that blacks and Hispanics will make up 42 percent of the U.S. population by the year 2040. When you've got an industry that's working on innovations to help make the lives of people better or easier, it's important to make sure that those within that industry itself are representative of the greater population.

And it's a lost market opportunity if we fail to bring in perspectives that match those of overall market. Consider: according to Pew, blacks are some of the most active users of social media – a part of the tech industry that many major corporate giants and startups touch upon. Approximately 73 percent of African-Americans actively engage in social media; indeed, 40 percent of black Internet users aged 18 years to 29 years use Twitter, as opposed to just 28 percent of white Americans.

2. We're Setting a Bad Example for a Future Generation

This belief that women and minorities have no place in tech may sadly be affecting the younger American ethos. In 2013, approximately 30,000 students took the Advanced Placement test for computer science. According to College Board, of those that took the exam, less than 20 percent of those students were female, 8 percent were Hispanic, and only about 3 percent were African American. Maryland – a state with some of the most widely available programming jobs in the country – led the numbers in terms of the number of black students that took the exam, with 10 percent of the state's CS test-takers having taken it.

In terms of higher education, a mere 10 percent of all computer science degrees are earned by black Americans, and an even lower 8 percent by Hispanics. Women fare a little better – with 18.2 percent of all bachelor's degrees in computer science held by women and 19.2 percent in engineering. But even in the case for women, that's a pretty sad statistic, considering that women earn a majority of all bachelor's degrees (57.3 percent).

3. Diversity Within Ranks is Better Than Any Focus Group

The fact of the matter is this: race and gender bring about with it innate differences in experiences. While it's easy to make the claim that diversity can arise without this dependence on race or gender, you cannot simply refute the claim that the perspective of a black woman in America is different from that of a white man in America.

Race and ethnicity are closely tied to varying cultural and social norms outside the scope of the white majority. Whether from another country or born in the United States, racial minorities have faced and continue to face certain issues that are particular to their respective groups. In the same way, women face numerous challenges that men cannot even begin to understand. However, it doesn't mean that these challenges or perspectives are any less valid than that of the majority white perspective.

Improving diversity in the tech industry can only add another layer of perspective and understanding brought on my varied experiences. In the same way that focus groups aim to help companies produce and market their product towards a market, a diverse company can help to ensure that a product has taken into consideration the many different and complicated factors in our increasingly diverse world.

At this year's SXSW Interactive, listen in on an important discussion on Diversity in Tech that is being presented by Google for Entrepreneurs on behalf of Steve Case's Rise of the Rest Road Trip. Those on the panel include:

  • Diana Lopez-Obaldo, Director of External Affairs & International Relationships for 1871
  • John Lyman, Head of Partnerships & Marketing for Google for Entrepreneurs
  • Jukay Hsu, Founder of C4Q
  • Laura Weidman Powers, Cofounder and CEO of CODE2040

The event will take place Monday, March 16 between 11AM and 12 PM at Salon D in the Hilton Austin Downtown. And if you've got some extra time while you're at SXSWi, check out some of the other events Rise of the Rest has organized, below:

SXSW15 Pardon the Disruption: Steve Case on Entrepreneurs March 14 11:00-12:00 Austin Convention Center

SXSW15 Reinventing America: Betting Big On the Heartland March 15 3:30-4:30 Hilton Austin Downtown

SXSW15 Steve Case & Rise of the Rest Pitch Competition March 15 5:00-6:00 Hilton Austin Downtown

SXSW15 Tech Talk: Building a Startup Ecosystem March 16 9:30-10:30 Hilton Austin Downtown

How I Built It: In Conversation with Ben Milne March 16 12:30-1:30 Hilton Austin Downtown


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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.