Silicon Valley’s Biggest Brands and Investors are Getting Behind Diversity

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With corporate citizenship, gender equality and diversity the name of the game nowadays in the corporate ecosystem, one must wonder if the bigwigs throwing support behind these movements are actually walking the walk. 

That’s unfortunately not always the case when it comes to the billion-dollar brands in Silicon Valley, including Google, Yahoo and Twitter. 

“Out of 36 executives and senior officials in the United States, Google reports exactly one African American and zero Latinos,” the San Francisco Gate reports, according to Google’s first-ever public diversity report. The report showed that women occupy just 21 percent of leadership positions and 17 percent of tech jobs at the company. Google has no female executive officers and only one woman on its senior leadership team.

In reaction to Google’s transparency, Yahoo released a similar report on Tuesday, revealing that just 23 percent of people in vice president roles or higher were female, including CEO Marissa Mayer. Yahoo, mirroring the tech industry as a whole, is dominated by white and Asian males and among tech staff, the male-female ratio is 85 percent to 15 percent.[more]

Twitter has long been the target of diversity critics. When the company filed for its IPO in 2013, it had no female investors or board members, and only one female executive officer, hired just weeks earlier. Since then, Marjorie Scardino has joined the board.

That’s not saying much for US-based tech firms, but across the Pacific, Chinese firm Alibaba, which is headed for the largest, most anticipated IPO of the year, puts Silicon Valley to shame with one third of its 27 partners women. The company’s CFO, Chief customer officer, Chief people officer and COO of its logistics business are all women. Three of the nine female partners have been with the company since it was founded in 1999 followed by three more hires the next year.

Still, while Alibaba has more women in key operational roles, its board of directors is dominated by men, with Yahoo’s chief development officer, Jacqueline Reses, the only woman serving on Alibaba’s board. Reses is expected to resign before the IPO, leaving nine men. 

Poor performance numbers in diversity “come into focus as reflecting poor business strategy when considered in light of the shifts in US demographics,” said John Fitzgerald Gates, Ph.D. and Principal and Chief Strategist of Criticality Management Consulting. 

“Today, Latinos and blacks make up 29 percent of the US population and represent a $2.8 trillion annual economy. By 2040, Latinos and blacks will increase to 42 percent of the population and minorities will become the majority, not just in terms of raw numbers but also in terms of intellectual capital, innovation, workforce supply and the sustainability of our national economy. Given these realities, Google and other Silicon Valley companies reject diversity at their peril.”

But the tech industry isn’t alone. Issues with diversity occur across all sectors, services and products. That’s why Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tristan Walker has been working to raise funding to build a personal care brand for people of color. 

“My experience of going into a Walgreens or CVS and going to the ethnic aisle, which is really a shelf, and having to reach down to get a package that is dirty, probably expired, with a photo of a 70-year-old bald, black guy in a towel on it, that entire awful second-class citizen experience has to go,” Walker told USA Today.

Walker has already raised nearly $7 million to launch the line which includes Bevel, a shaving system designed to prevent skin irritation for African American and others that comes in a six-piece kit that retails for $60. 

Other brands have been trying to improve their numbers through partnerships and initiatives. Bank of America’s partnership with the National Center for Women in Technology and its annual National Award for Aspirations in Computing have led to 30 percent of BofA’s technology workforce—and roughly 56 percent of its global workforce—being female.

Intel has directly benefitted from its Women Principal Engineer and Fellows Forum since its launch in 2006. The number of female principal engineers in the company has more than doubled from 22 to 56.

“We are in the business of creating products that solve problems,” Lori Wilson, Intel’s Global Women’s Initiative Director, told The Guardian. “In order to understand those problems, you have to understand the issues behind them. We can only do that with diverse perspectives.”

• Connect with Sheila on Twitter: @srshayon

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