Hearing from the leaders of the tech world is always revealing, and very often surprising. In our second annual Silicon Valley Insiders Poll, a panel of 101 executives, innovators, and thinkers weigh in on some of the biggest technological, political, and cultural questions of the moment.
According to a recent survey of elite U.S. and Canadian universities, black people earned 4.1 percent of all computer-science bachelor’s degrees in the last few years. Yet blacks only make up about two percent of recent hires at tech firms.
Sexism has long been a thorny problem in the technology industry. But recently, many have pushed for the sector to look anew at its considerable racial and ethnic homogeneity. Blacks and Hispanics make up about 13 and 16 percent of the American workforce, yet at no major tech firm do they constitute more than five percent of employees.
So how bad is racism in Silicon Valley? In our poll of 101 leaders in the technology industry, we asked people to rank the scale of its problem between one and 10. One signaled that the problem wasn’t very bad at all; 10 that the state of things was unconscionable.
Respondents pegged the lack of diversity at a little more than a seven. That’s just about where they judged the Valley’s sexism as well.
Though some people noted that, before taking the survey, they had never thought of the industry as racially homogenous, most who went on to elaborate tended to have more dour views of the industry’s bias. Others added that, while Asian and South-Asians were very well represented, they thought black people of all nationalities were not.
Many focused on the industry’s lack of diversity as a competitiveness issue.
“Silicon Valley is still too white, too male, and too focused on solving the problems of the young, single, and wealthy,” said Owen Grover, the senior vice president and general manager of iHeartRadio.
Rashad Robinson, the director of ColorOfChange, said that the Valley’s greatest problem lied in its “deep lack of self-reflection and the strong resistance to it.”
“The question of diversity is not just one about the numbers, or even a question about the culture of hostility and willful exclusion toward diversity for Black people and Latinos,” he said. “It’s about the deep level of comfort with being in all-white spaces (or only-white and Asian spaces), and not understanding the impact of that exclusion on the work and society.”
Robinson said that one could not discuss this exclusion—“the existence of which is axiomatic”—without meeting arguments and rebuttals.
Others reported that explicit racism in the Valley (as in, not just biased or unequal hiring practices) was getting worse. Veterans also said they had seen little to no improvement in the industry over the decades they had worked there.
Asked Kate Crawford, a researcher at Microsoft: “Can your scale go up to 11?”
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