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No Rainbows in Silicon Valley. Whose Fault?

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 17

By Taylor Ramsey

In the last week or so I have read articles about the lack of diversity in the workforce in companies that make up the Silicon Valley in northern California. Many of the big technology companies have released employee data regarding race and gender.

An article in USA Today by Jessica Guynn and Elizabeth Weise on Aug. 15, 2014 began with the statement, “The technology industry’s predominantly white and Asian male workforce is in danger of losing touch with the drivers of the nation – and world – that forms it customer base”. They go on to point out that 1 in 14 technical employees in Silicon Valley are black or Hispanic. Not good numbers when you consider our national labor force consists of 12 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic workers.

The tremendous amount of technology originating from Silicon Valley is being produced mostly by white and Asian guys. Silicon Valley employers are being taken to task for their lack of diversity by many in the media. These companies are now engaging in a strong and sincere effort to make sure they make hiring decisions based partly on the color of one’s skin.

The lack of diversity looks bad, but it is not the fault of Silicon Valley businesses. I do not agree that our goal is to feel better and make sure the innovation and technology we all crave is created by people who have different colors of skin. To be quite frank, I do not care what color of skin the engineers had when they created my smart phone.

I grew up when the color of skin was a determinate of whether a person was hired. It was a disgusting time when skin color established the direction of the lives of so many Americans. Today, I do not feel any large company is crazy, stupid or just plain bigoted enough to deny employment to people based on the color of their skin.

In my opinion, the color of the workforce in Silicon Valley has nothing to do with the companies located there. Why not face up to what the real problem in the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley?
Let’s work it backwards by viewing a potential employee’s life. In researching the University of California website it showed that in March 2014 the make up of the student population was 45.8 percent white, 27.5 percent Asian, 14.5 percent Hispanic and 4.3 percent black. Now let’s go back a little further. The California Department of Education’s website indicates that the high school graduation rates by race were 91.6 percent for Asians, 87.6 percent for whites, 75.4 percent for Hispanics and 67.9 percent for blacks. The time machine continues backward in the potential’s employee’s life. We discover that in 2012 the percentage of single-parent homes were 67 percent for blacks, 42 percent for Hispanic, 25 percent for white and 17 percent for Asian.

Those numbers reveal that Hispanics and blacks are at a distinct disadvantage from the very beginning. How can you succeed when a single parent is working like a dog to feed and house their children, thus leaving them alone for so many hours a day? It is obvious that some parents just do not care about their child’s education. It is almost impossible to succeed in the real world without a high school diploma. So how can we demand Silicon Valley companies increase the diversity of their workforce when the percentage of Hispanic and black qualified candidates is so very low? We shouldn’t.

We must applaud companies who assist school districts in training students interested in technology. Companies that partner with the community do great work in assisting children whose parents do not have the resources or care enough. Their efforts in that arena could produce a more diversified workforce, but doing it to assist any student, no matter the color of their skin, is best.

Silicon Valley companies are not bad and they are not bigoted. Silicon Valley enterprises have no business making hiring decisions based on the color of one’s skin. They must do all they can to hire top talent to remain competitive and fill our insatiable desire for more and more products jammed-packed full of amazing technology.

Our school system, our universities/colleges and especially parents of any color are the ones who must be held responsible for who Silicon Valley companies bring on board their teams. Personal choice, not the human resources department, has everything to do with the makeup of the workforce in Silicon Valley. As a community we must do all we can to encourage parents to be more responsible and provide an environment to move children toward good careers.

Today, character and qualifications should be the criteria in building the workforce in Silicon Valley, not the color of skin.