Does Race Matter in Silicon Valley?

I have worked in software development in Silicon Valley for most of my adult life, so I’ve been surprised to read the recent allegations of race-based discrimination in the technology industry. I have my issues with the industry – the arrogance, the growing bureaucracy, the tendency to make nouns out of verbs (ask, invite) and adjectives (social, mobile) – but I’ve generally found its self-proclaimed commitment to meritocracy to be well-earned.

This has not stopped folks like Jesse Jackson from targeting the industry. “Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day,” he wrote in a letter to large tech firms in 2014.

Is he right? As Joe Nocera recently reported in the New York Times, only 2% of the LinkedIn workforce is black and 4% Hispanic. ThinkProgress reported that “just 35 percent [of Google employees] in the United States aren’t white.”

Wait a Second…

Gasp! Just 35%! One problem, though: The percentage of people in the United States who aren’t white is 37. The proportion of non-whites at Google is nearly perfectly representative of the country over all. And Joe Nocera reports that at Facebook, 91% of the employees are white or Asian, as if white-or-Asian is now a single race.

It seems clear that black people are under-represented in Silicon Valley. You could argue that technology firms should do more to hire black people. But you can’t make blanket statements like, “Silicon Valley has a major diversity problem,” as the ThinkProgress piece mentioned above does. In an industry that was admittedly created almost exclusively by white men, hiring people of Indian and Chinese ancestry contributes as much to racial diversity as people of African descent. Joe Nocera writes, “people who create companies, with the attendant intensity and pressure, want to be around people like themselves,” again treating Asians and whites as if they are the same race. They aren’t.

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