Diversity in Tech Less of a STEM Education Problem Than Suggested
One of the problems Silicon Valley points to in explaining of the lack of diversity in the tech industry is the so-called "pipeline." Companies complain there simply aren't enough Latinos, blacks or women graduating with relevant degrees to hire. New research shows this convenient excuse doesn't hold up.
In many technology companies' diversity strategies, building up the pipeline of new talent from many different backgrounds has become a key initiative. Apple, Facebook and many other major firms have taken to funding college scholarships or launching coding programs for young minority students.
But for such a data-driven industry, it appears this view of the pipeline isn't supported by much research, as The New York Times recently reported. There are more black and Latino students in relevant fields like computer science and engineering than there are working in the industry.
According to analysis published by Maya A. Beasley, a sociologist from the University of Connecticut, Latinos graduate with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees at over twice the rate of big Silicon Valley companies' average representation in the workforce. To put it more bluntly, for every two Latinos with relevant skills for a Silicon Valley job, only one may actually be working in Silicon Valley.
Beasley analyzed data from the Education Department, finding that among college graduates or those with advanced degrees in computer science or engineering, 57 percent are white, 26 percent are Asian, 6 percent are black, and 8 percent are Hispanic. Compare that to the diversity data for technical jobs, averaged from data released by Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter: 56 percent were white, 37 percent Asian, 1 percent black, and 3 percent Hispanic.
For Latinos, part of the disparity in the data between graduates and jobholders is personal interest. According to data from American Community Survey, Latinos are less likely to take their engineering or computer science degree into a tech job after school. Only about 12 percent of Latino graduates do so, compared to 40 percent of Asian STEM graduates, for example.
But Beasley says the culture of technology companies, which has long been shaped by a homogeneous workforce of mostly white and Asian men, plays a big role in how many Latinos work at companies, as well as why many Latinos opt out of jobs in Silicon Valley. She pointed to an incident at Facebook, where employees wrote "Black Lives Matter" on a wall, only to see the slogan crossed out and replaced with "All Lives Matter."
Lack of cultural sensitivity can push people away from work environments. Beasley said many minority STEM professionals choose to work in more traditional businesses or nonprofits, often influenced by negative stories about the culture at tech companies.
The now well-known lack of diversity in tech can itself dissuade graduates.
"Any student of color looking at the numbers from the tech giants is going to be turned off and wary about taking a job there because it tells you something about what the climate is," she told The Times. "They don't want to be the token."
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