All Articles Tagged "diversity silicon valley"
by R. Asmerom
Are African-Americans opting out of tech careers? Dr. Maya A Beasley says yes. In her book, “Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite,” The University of Connecticut assistant professor contends that self-segregation is discouraging African Americans from accessing the networks that lead to tech careers.
She drew upon 60 interviews with black and white college students at UC Berkeley and Stanford for her research. The impetus for the book stemmed from the fact that while she was a graduate student at Stanford, she noticed the lack of Black people in Silicon Valley overall although there was a relatively substantial amount of Black students at Stanford University. “I thought this was really odd because I went to college with really brilliant black students,” she told FINS. “And I knew that Stanford had a high proportion of black students so I was surprised to see such a disparity between what I saw on campus and what I saw on Main Street.” She wanted to understand how those students didn’t get filtered into the Silicon Valley infrastructure.
She noticed that some students were discouraged from STEM classes and that many others opted to hang out in exclusive cultural circles. “There’s a danger in completely segregating yourself,” Beasley told FINS. “When black students only interact with each other it really inhibits the information they’re getting. White students are getting advice from their parents and summer jobs through their connections. If you’re limiting the number of times you’re spending with white people, you’re also limiting the types of information you have available to you.”
In addition, Beasley notes that the composition of STEM courses (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math), which are dominated by a white and Asian males, also deters African-American involvement.
So what’s the solution? It seems that self-segregation will naturally take place but making a conscious effort to integrate and acknowledge the cultural dynamics surrounding Silicon Valley would help a Black student’s transition, if he or she desires, into the tech landscape.
With Obama making his way to Silicon Valley to discuss innovation with the top American innovators themselves, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s Steve Jobs, we have to wonder if diversity should be part of the discussions. Silicon Valley is the tech center of the world and is responsible for producing the technology which impacts the way we communicate, the way we thrive and the way we live. But this epicenter is far from diverse. Sure, it’s not all one color but you can pretty much sum it up in two words: Caucasian and Asian. Diversity hiring was born from a need to not only overcome overt racism but to disrupt the natural tendency of hiring agents to hire people like themselves. Unfortunately, social compatibilities do often align with ethnic backgrounds whether people like to recognize it or not.
In Silicon Valley, diversity hiring may not be necessary but it’s something to question. Dan Salcedo, a 25-year-old Latino tech executive at SingleHop, Inc., however, doesn’t believe it’s Obama’s job to push diversity. “While I would love to see more Latinos involved in Silicon Valley startups, the reality is that in many of these companies, talent is generally color blind. Why? Because firms like Facebook, Zynga, or even my firm grow at unprecedented rates,” he said. “This explosive growth means that you hire whoever you can possibly find that has the best qualifications and can get the job done. If they are black, white, Latino, Native American, or white- it really doesn’t matter. You simply can’t pass up a great candidate when you are growing this fast.”
Ginny Clarke, founder of talent management consulting firm Talent Optimization Partners, has had firsthand experience with challenges of corporate diversity as an African-American woman who has worked in the field for a number of years. She believe that diversity is important but something the government should discuss in terms of corporate advantages, not in terms of leveling the playing field.
“Obama should talk to Silicon Valley about sound talent management strategies to drive innovation and profitability,” she said. “He must challenge corporate leaders to place a higher value on developing corporate cultures and personal and institutional competencies around multiculturalism to attract, recruit and retain the best talent, which will be diverse, by definition.”
Ren Churchill of Astute Computing believes that diversity in Silicon Valley is only hindered by inevitable factors, which have little to do with hiring practices of companies. “If you’re talking about starting companies instead of getting hired, then yes, the old boy network is in full force. Getting in front of the folks with money requires a lot of networking and that’s directly based on your personal social connections. Is that overtly racist? Nope. Does the racial makeup of those with money influence the racial makeup of those that get funded? I’d expect so.”