Google recommits to diversity, but will it be enough?

Google recommits to diversity, but will it be enough?

For a few years now, Google has worn a big target on its back in the battle over diversity in the tech industry. Part of this is because Google is a huge – nearly the biggest – target in that industry, so it draws a lot of attention. Then there’s the company’s less than stellar record on diversity that motivates activists to target the low hanging fruit offered by the company’s reputation.

Recently, the company released its annual “diversity report,” and there really wasn’t much good news for people hoping Google can make good on its promises to become a more diverse employer. Men, despite being about half the population, make up the majority of the workforce, with approximately 69 percent of the total workforce fitting into that category. When looking at white men, that group accounts for about 56 percent of all employees.
These percentages are even worse in higher-level positions, which might be expected given the industry longevity necessary to move up through the ranks. When looking specifically at leadership, only 25 percent of the employees are female. The number falls to 20 percent in engineering and programming jobs. The number is up from last year, but only about 1 percent.

There is some movement in other segments. Google’s Hispanic workforce increased to 4 percent from 3 percent, and black employees account for 5 percent of the workforce.  Of course, Google is not alone in having slanted diversity numbers. Most people just chalk it up to the nature of the business. Tech jobs overwhelmingly draw a certain type of person. While there’s some arithmetic merit to that, things are changing … but many big tech companies haven’t kept up with the trend. Google has been vocal about trying to make changes.

Last spring the company debuted a program at historically black Howard University with the intention of giving high school students who study computer science a leg up in the educational process. This is in addition to the successful Google in Residence program, which sends Google engineers to historically black colleges and universities with the aim of making connections and increasing diversity in the computer science field.

Some critics of programs like these say it’s just social engineering at work. That companies should hire the best person regardless of their race or sex. Others say those two factors have played too big a role in hiring processes for far too long, holding back otherwise qualified candidates. Google, it seems, is done listening to either side of the argument. They are staking a claim and reaching out. It’s too soon to tell how well this will work, but early indications are not exactly reassuring. If Google really wants to make a difference in diversity, they may need a different strategy.

Robert Gillings is an award winning writer, producer, actor architectural designer, philosopher and financial consultant.

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