Diversity gap in Silicon Valley: Minorities with degrees rarely hired

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Top universities around the country are producing a huge number of black and Hispanic science, computer engineering and computer science graduates, but less than half are hired by leading technology companies, according to an analysis by USA TODAY.

Employers are, however, quick to point out that the teeming pool of job applicants is the main cause for the shortage of minority employees in Silicon Valley.

The New School’s Economics and Urban Policy professor Darrick Hamilton disagrees with that claim and points out that as the technology industry continues to grow as a driver for the U.S. economy, big tech companies continue to feel the pressure to diversify their predominantly white and Asian male workforce.

Not hiring enough Hispanics and African-Americans would create a great divide between the majority and minority, and would cause the industry to lose touch with its rather diverse consumer base.

Of the seven Silicon Valley companies who have released data on their employees, blacks make up only 2 percent of the total number of workers. Hispanics comprise about 3 percent. However, what puts these numbers into perspective are the percentage of blacks and Hispanics who have received bachelor’s degrees in computer and tech related courses recently.

According to data from the Computer Research Association, African Americans made up 4.5 percent of last year’s computer science and computer engineering graduates from prestigious research universities in the country, and 6.5 percent of the graduates are Hispanics.

A larger gap can be seen when comparing numbers between Silicon Valley employees and computer science and engineering graduates of all colleges and universities in the country. Results from a 2012 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics show that blacks and Hispanics collectively made up around 18 percent of all computer science graduates.

Professional social network LinkedIn, however, issued a statement on the matter, saying that they are working with organizations to “address the need for greater diversity to help LinkedIn and the tech industry as a whole.” Other big tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Twitter have yet to comment on this disproportion, although they have addressed similar issues previously.

Google, through an earlier blog post this year, said that it has been working with “historically black colleges and universities” to improve coursework and increase attendance in computer science courses.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also published a post on diversity, citing education improvement as one of the best ways for their company to impact society. As such, they have recently pledged $100,000,000 to President Obama’s ConnectED program to help bring advanced technologies to underprivileged and disadvantaged schools.

In an interview early this year, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also talked about the issue, saying that education reforms and improvement are the key to addressing underrepresentation in the technology field.

All of these companies also insist that they are hiring all the qualified minority workers that they can find.

Others, like Jane Cuny, director of the National Science Foundation’s Computer Education program, believe that tech giants simply do not see the talent in front of them. She says that minority computer graduates are simply invisible to these companies, due to subtle biases that cause them to be overlooked when it comes to hiring.

Another key problem causing this disconnect is the fact that there are schools with top performing computer science departments that produce a large number of minority students, but these are not the schools where most leading companies actively recruit employees from. Research done by Wired magazine lists MIT, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, UCLA and Carnegie Mellon as the most popular schools tech companies recruit from.

Click here to read more of USA Today’s study in full.