Tech workforce diversity: Recognizing problem is the first step to solving it

July 7th, 2014

By Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren and Barbara Lee

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”

— Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

Most of us hope all Americans have a fair chance to be successful without regard to ethnicity or gender.

But award-winning scientist Scott Page, in his book “The Difference,” mathematically proved that diversity makes for greater success in a venture. Diversity is not just an American value, it’s good for business.

However, the tech world has for too long been dominated by one gender and limited in ethnic diversity.

Now, as major companies such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn have disclosed their workforce and leadership diversity data, it is painfully clear the sector faces a persistent and troubling deficit when it comes to women, African-Americans and Latinos.

We’d like to commend these companies and others that have provided this data. Are we satisfied with the picture it presents? Hardly. But as female members of a legislative body starkly unrepresentative of our nation, we know the first step in solving any challenge is recognizing there is one.

There are a number of ways in which these companies can address their lack of diversity. For example, board membership and top-level management should be diversified and recruitment practices for employees can be more inclusive.

Diversifying the tech workforce will not only boost the bottom line, but also provide African-American, Latino and female students with success stories in a field largely devoid of role models.

At the same time, Congress and statehouses across the nation must address education disparities that undermine income equality and American competitiveness.

Tech jobs are increasing, and with an average salary of $93,800 in 2012, they pay 98 percent more than the average private sector wage. But the number of students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) is far too low generally and it’s dismal when it comes to women, Latinos and African-American students.

In 12 states last year, not a single African-American high school student took the computer science Advanced Placement exam. The same was true for Latino students in eight states.

The number of women pursuing computer science degrees has actually shrunk over the past three decades to the point that only 0.4 percent of incoming college women intend to major in computer sciences.

The reasons are complex, but we all need to play a role in the remedies.

Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn have set a good example for Silicon Valley and we encourage all tech companies to be equally candid about their work forces.

Transparency promotes fairness. Data about applicants and new hires, pay equity, promotions and management composition reported by race, gender and ethnicity promotes equal opportunity.

With more transparency, American individuals and investors could make better-informed decisions about investing in companies that leverage ability with diversity. With more data, job-seekers and employees will have better information to decide where to work and consumers can make informed choices about where to spend their money.

The tech sector has been wildly successful. Imagine what could be achieved if we took Page’s advice and leveraged diversity.

There’s a phrase we sometimes hear in Silicon Valley: “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.”

On this important matter of employment diversity, if we don’t measure where we are, we are unlikely to get where we need to go. If we can be a leader for the country on innovation, creativity and job growth, surely we can lead on diversity as well.

Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, are members of the 113th Congress. Published in the July 7, 2014 edition of the San Jose Mercury News.

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