Solving tech's diversity problem may be a key to saving San Francisco
Mars Jullian, an engineer at AdRoll, told the Guardian that employees of tech companies with name-brand apps tend to exhibit more ego. AdRoll is a big player, but more behind the scenes, she said, giving her perspective on the attitudes of her fellow tech workers.
"Sometimes it seems tech people feel like they own the city," she said. "I don't know if that's the right attitude to have. Sometimes it's more important to be humble."
One might forgive the tech workers for their enthusiasm. The industry, after all, has ushered in widespread transformation in business and communications, resulting in dramatic economic shifts. But with such a high concentration of wealth and influence in the Bay Area, the question of who gets to participate is key.
Google's diversity numbers rocked the world outside Silicon Valley, but surprised few in the Bay Area. The behemoth is 70 percent male and 60 percent white, with Asians making up 30 percent of the company's ethnic representation.
Soon after Google's numbers were revealed, Facebook, Yahoo, and LinkedIn followed suit with their own diversity reports. Their numbers differ a bit from Google, showing more Asian employees, and slightly more women. The numbers look worse, however, when only technology jobs are factored in. The tech worker population among these companies is about 15 percent female.
Hadi Partovi, an early Facebook investor, now adviser, and ex-chief of Microsoft's MSN, told the Guardian that despite the industry's challenges, tech's doors are open to people with skills, regardless of background.
"The computer doesn't know if it's being programmed by someone rich or poor, black or brown," he told us in a phone interview. "A lawyer, for instance, is looked at more explicitly. Tech has the opportunity to be more meritocratic."
But the tech sector's pious belief that it functions as a world-changing meritocracy ignores a host of factors that serve to hinder inclusion.
Many have touted the education pipeline as the root cause of tech's lack of diversity. The number of women pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is stunningly low, 24 percent, according to the US Department of Commerce. African Americans and Latinos also lag far behind their white and Asian counterparts in completing their computer science degrees, according to studies by the East Bay nonprofit Level Playing Field Institute.
Considering Asian groups is important: the Level Playing Field Institute draws a distinction between represented and underrepresented minority groups, acknowledging that ethnicity, income and class intermingle in complex ways. It's those underrepresented groups like women, Latinos and African Americans LPFI identifies as groups lacking in tech.
But the pipeline is only one part of the problem. Subtle (and not-so-subtle) misogyny and racism, often labeled micro-aggressions, pervade hiring.
Level Playing Field is focused on creating opportunity for people of color and women in STEM fields. In an extensive tech-industry study conducted in 2011, called "Hidden Bias in Information Technology Workplaces," researchers concluded: "Despite widespread underrepresentation of women and people of color within the sector, diversity is not regarded as a priority."