An explosive memo by a Google engineer about the need for diversity stunned the nation and reignited a debate about intolerance and discrimination in the workplace. But anyone who has paid close attention to high-tech companies knows news of the memo is merely the latest example of discrimination among Silicon Valley companies that civil rights leaders, politicians and others have complained about for years.
For all of the technological progress that they have introduced, Silicon Valley companies like Google have become bastions of White male privilege, where Blacks, Hispanics and women have had a hard time gaining a foot in the door.
Indeed, the sentiments expressed by James Damore, the author of the infamous memo who has since been fired, represent a symptom of a long festering problem.
The 10-page document, Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, argues that diversity efforts at the company are misguided. It also claims that there are “differences in distributions of traits between men and women,” which “may in part explain why we don’t have 50 percent representation of women in tech and leadership.” Women hold approximately 31 percent of U.S. tech jobs at Google, according to data published by the company, and hold 25 percent of the company’s leadership positions.
While Damore does not directly address the issue of race and ethnicity, high-tech companies like Google have an embarrassing record of excluding African-Americans and Hispanics from the ranks of their workforce. Consider, for example, that African-Americans make up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population. But according to Google, only 2 percent of its U.S. employees are African-American. At the same time, Hispanics represent more than 16 percent of the U.S. population, but comprise only 4 percent of Google employees.
So bad is the problem that members of the Congressional Black Caucus flew to Silicon Valley in 2015 to pressure Apple, Google, Intel, SAP and Pandora, the nation’s largest tech companies, to hire more African Americans.
“All of them are deficient,” U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, the North Carolina Democrat and then-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement in 2015. “None of them have African Americans on their boards of directors, and that is very disappointing, because African Americans are part of the customer base of all five of these companies.”
“We must increase our protests and make them broader and more public. … They think we are going away but we’re not.”
President Barack Obama also joined the chorus, holding a first-ever White House Demo Day in 2015 to call on the the industry to level the playing field.
“Ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, and they can be inspired by any kind of life experience,” Obama said in a speech at the time in the East Room, writes USA Today. “We’ve got to make sure that everybody is getting a fair shot. The next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie or Esteban.”