How to fix Google's dismal diversity issue

OPINION - As Google mentioned, yes, there is a pipeline issue with adding more diversity. However, when will the argument go beyond that “safe” statement and include tangible strategies to ensure the tech landscape is more diverse?

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

For years, many technology companies have flat out refused to release numbers on where they stand when it comes to diversity of its workforce.

Although big companies are legally required to report race and gender statistics to the federal government, firms such as Apple, Google and Hewlett-Packard have convinced the Labor Department that the data is sensitive and should be withheld from the public. I’ll give it to Google for taking the first step and leading the way in actually providing its data.

This has been an issue that I’ve been following for years, so it’s good to see a company of their stature step up to the plate, acknowledge the issue and commit to changing it.  The tech leader’s latest announcement is just the tipping point in a national issue that is barely inching toward any resolution.

Google reportedly has 46,170 employees worldwide. Its diversity numbers reveal that while 70% of its workforce is male, only 30% is female, a figure that’s 17% less than the representation of women in the U.S. workforce today.

What is more startling is its ethnicity figures, which only accounts for the U.S.: 61% are white, 2% are black and 3% are Hispanic; 30% are Asian and 4% are of two or more races.

Look even closer and you’ll discover Google’s technical staff is 60% white, 34% Asian, 1% black, 2% Hispanic and 3% of two or more races. In all, 80% of employees are white, 12% are black and 5% are Asian. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, people of color in tech exist at a far lower rate than the national workforce average.

TheGrio: CEO Angela Benton aims to diversify the tech industry (VIDEO)

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As Google mentioned in its blog post, yes, there is a pipeline issue. However, when will the argument go beyond that “safe” statement and include tangible strategies to ensure the tech landscape is more diverse?

An ideal approach should be multi-pronged with consideration of short and long-term solutions.

Yes, let’s make sure HBCUs and other institutions that have high concentrations of minorities are up to par and producing the talent that our future needs.  Yes, let’s make sure that programs that are directly working on this problem are funded — more specifically, programs focusing on the employees and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, our youth, and programs that work to train individuals to code.  The pipeline certainly does need to be filled, but it doesn’t stop there.

For starters, let’s begin to think “outside of the box” on this issue.

Tech companies need to stop applying the same ol’ strategies to this issue expecting different results.  Most companies and tech investors look for certain criteria like where you went to school (bonus points if it’s Ivy League) and if you hold a technical degree (preferably in Computer Science).

However, making this the starting point when it’s public knowledge that there is already a deficit in the pool that you are picking from doesn’t make the best sense.  Shifting the focus to skill-based recruiting and being more open to how certain skills can translate into high job performance in technology and technology-enabled companies opens up the talent pool of potential hires and investment opportunities.

I’ve been able to see this work firsthand through my experience running NewME.  Our fastest growing companies don’t come from the typical background of someone in tech; in fact, most of them only graduated from high school. Through their life experiences, they’ve been able to create growing businesses and hire the best talent for their teams, who also don’t necessarily come from the “typical tech background.”  Companies should not only want to bring more color into their offices, they should want a fresh pool of talent with diverse backgrounds to bring more innovation into their businesses.

Being creative in how we solve this problem (whether from a recruitment perspective or finding the best talent to invest in) means ditching the status quo and pattern matching that currently exists and embracing talent, backgrounds, cultures outside of Silicon Valley.

Ironically, many of these tech companies were built on creativity, thinking about and finding solutions to problems differently.  The issue of diversity in the industry is no different.  It’s time to stop making excuses and providing solutions that will take at least 10 years to see an impact. Let’s start now, and let’s start with our existing talent pool that is being underutilized and completely passed over.

Angela Benton is the Founder & CEO of NewME Accelerator, a program funded by Google for Entrepreneurs.