Girls and underrepresented minorities made up a larger proportion of US high school students taking the Advanced Placement exam in computer science this year than ever before, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi announced in a Medium post on Sunday:
In 2018, a total of 135,992 students took the AP Computer Science exam, a rise of 31% from last year. Female students and underrepresented minorities showed the greatest increases from last year:
- Black or African American students — 7,301 participants, up 44%
- Hispanic or Latino — 20,954 participants, up 41%
- Female students — 38,195 participants, up 39%
- Rural students — 14,184 participants, up 42%
Last year, these figures grew even more rapidly, increasing by 135 percent among girls and 170 percent among underrepresented minorities between 2016 and 2017: a spike Partovi credits to the launch of Code.org’s Computer Science Principles course. According to Code.org a nonprofit organization that focuses on expanding access to computer science, 70 percent of students in CS Principles classrooms say they want to pursue computer science after graduation, so the organization expects these growing numbers of students to translate into more diversity in the tech workforce down the line.
Google’s 2017 diversity report, released last week, expands on the information included in previous reports to cover the retention and attrition of underrepresented talent, as well as an intersectional analysis of race and gender at Google. Overall diversity figures were little changed from last year’s report and showed limited progress since 2014, when Google first began making this data public. Men make up 69.1 percent of the tech giant’s workforce, while its racial makeup is 53.1 percent white, 36.3 percent Asian, 2.5 percent black, 3.6 percent Hispanic or Latinx, and 4.2 percent multiracial. In 2014, the Googler community was 61.3 percent white, 30 percent Asian, 1.9 percent black, 2.9 percent Hispanic/Latinx, and 3.6 percent multiracial.
The company has made some progress in improving the gender balance of its leadership over the past four years, with its the percentage of women in leadership globally rising from 20.8 to 25.5 percent. Google’s US leadership is 66.9 percent white, 26.3 percent Asian, 2 percent black, 1.8 percent Latinx, 0.4 percent Native American, and 2.7 percent of more than one race. Black and Latinx representation in leadership have improved slightly since 2014, while the report highlights that 5.4 percent of new leadership hires in 2017 were black.
The attrition data included in this report touches on an issue that tech companies struggling with diversity and inclusion have discovered to be of critical importance: not just recruiting diverse candidates but also retaining those employees for the long term. Based on an index of US attrition, Google’s report shows that attrition rates are highest among black and Latinx employees, at 127 and 115 compared to an overall index of 100. “Black Googler attrition rates, while improving in recent years, have offset some of our hiring gains,” Google acknowledges, “which has led to smaller increases in representation than we would have seen otherwise.” On a global index, attrition was slightly higher for men than for women, however, at 103 compared to 94.
Investors in Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, voted down all proposed resolutions at on Wednesday’s shareholder meeting, including one that would have made the compensation of senior executives partly dependent on the company making progress toward specific diversity and inclusion goals. The proposal was opposed by Alphabet management, Reuters reported on Wednesday, which sank the resolution as insiders have effective voting control of the company. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hold supervoting shares in Alphabet that enable them to defeat any shareholder resolution they don’t approve of. Google insists that its existing commitments to diversity are sufficient:
Eileen Naughton, who leads Google’s HR operations, said the company remains committed to an internal goal to reach “market supply” representation of women and minorities by 2020, which could help bring hiring in line with the diversity of the candidate pool.
Another resolution aimed at getting Google to provide investors more information about its efforts to moderate user-generated content on the platforms it owns, including YouTube, was also voted down on Wednesday.
The proposal related to diversity was put forward by the activist investment fund Zevin Asset Management and supported by a group of Google employees who have expressed concern about how committed the company really is to being an inclusive environment for everyone who works there. One of those employees, engineer Irene Knapp, addressed Wednesday’s shareholder meeting with a statement that stressed the urgency of addressing ongoing problems in Google’s culture:
A group of Google employees has teamed up with activist investors in the tech giant’s parent company, Alphabet, to push a proposal at a June 6 shareholder meeting that would make executive compensation at Google contingent on the company meeting certain diversity goals, Kate Conger reported at Gizmodo last week. Alphabet opposes the resolution and has recommended a vote against it:
Google and Alphabet have maintained that they aren’t experiencing a diversity crisis but are rather dealing with complaints from a few disgruntled employees. A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the shareholder proposals, but the company also argued in its proxy statement that the proposal wouldn’t have any meaningful impact, even if it were approved, because Alphabet CEO Larry Page receives a base salary of only $1 per year and is not compensated based on performance.
But Zevin Asset Management, the investment firm that drafted the proposal, says that it’s intended to apply to all of the company’s executives, not just Page. “Anyone whose compensation is reviewed in the proxy, people like Sundar [Pichai, Google’s CEO], we are thinking about them, too,” said Pat Miguel Tomaino, the director of socially responsible investing at Zevin. “If this proposal gets a high vote and the board moves to implement it, we expect they would implement it for the people for whom it’s relevant.” In focusing its response solely on Page’s compensation, Alphabet is avoiding the bigger issues at stake, Tomaino added.
Although Google maintains that it is a leader in diversity and inclusion among Silicon Valley tech companies, it has faced scrutiny in the past year over its slow progress toward diversity goals and allegations of discriminating against women in pay and promotions. A pay equity audit demanded by another activist investor, Arjuna Capital, failed to satisfy Arjuna’s questions and compel it to withdraw a resolution demanding that the company report on the risks it faces from emerging public policies on gender pay equity.
Employees inside Slack's Headquarters in San Francisco (Slack)
The workplace communication and collaboration software startup Slack has garnered attention within the tech sector for its all-in approach to diversity and inclusion, issuing diversity reports at a faster pace and with more detail than their big-company competitors and making a point of giving its D&I commitment lots of visibility. Last month, Slack released its diversity report for 2017. The report touted a few victories, such as a 48 percent female management team and underrepresented minorities making up 12.8 percent of its technical staff, while also stressing the continued work it has to do.
In a profile of the company’s D&I program at the Atlantic on the occasion of that report, Jessica Nordell looked at several aspects of Slack’s approach to diversity that make it stand out from the crowd. One of these idiosyncrasies is that unlike many other tech companies, Slack doesn’t have a Chief Diversity Officer or other designated head of D&I:
While studies by the Harvard University professor Frank Dobbin, and colleagues, suggest having someone overseeing diversity efforts can increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in management, other measures, such as mentoring programs and transparency around what it takes to be promoted, are also important; a diversity chief alone may not be enough to make much of a difference. At Slack, the absence of a single diversity leader seems to signal that diversity and inclusion aren’t standalone missions, to be shunted off to a designated specialist, but are rather intertwined with the company’s overall strategy. As the CEO, Stewart Butterfield, has said, he wants these efforts to be something “everyone is engaged in.” Indeed, as the research by Dobbin and colleagues shows, involving employees in diversity policies leads to greater results.
The first lesson here is not “don’t have an appointed head of D&I,” but rather that there’s no one right way to structurally advance D&I. The Dobbin study makes sense because the D&I chief position ensures there’s always a voice in the room, but if any organization thinks they’ve solved D&I by creating a head of D&I role, they are sorely mistaken. In our work at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen organizations make progress with a large, singularly focused D&I function, or with a small but connected D&I function; with D&I reporting to HR, to the CEO, to the General Counsel, or to the Corporate Social Responsibility function.
From technology to literature to academics, controversies have emerged with increasing frequency in recent years over the underrepresentation of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups at conferences and other major events. Packing a stage with white, male speakers has become a surefire way to attract the wrong kind of attention to your event—and you can make things even worse by having them talk about diversity and inclusion while conspicuously not practicing these principles.
On the other hand, an event stage is the kind of place where an organization can very conspicuously broadcast its commitment to D&I, like Slack did at the 2016 Crunchies, TechCrunch’s annual tech awards show, when it sent four black women from its engineering team to accept the award for fastest rising startup. Beyond these PR opportunities, however, organizations that are serious about diversity must also think about how they put it in practice in the public-facing events they produce, sponsor, or attend.
In order to help other organizations figure out how to do that, the social media management software company Buffer recently published the guidelines it uses to promote diversity in events. Hailley Griffis, the editor of Buffer’s Open blog, laid out the guidelines in a post earlier this month. When it comes to sponsoring events, she explains, they “focus on events that are making good-faith efforts at an inclusive roster.”
Buffer’s metrics for these efforts include women making up at least 30 percent of speakers or panelists, visible people of color (as defined within the cultural and geographic context of the conference) on the event stage, and an inclusive official code of conduct for the event—Griffis highlights AlterConf’s code of conduct as an example. For event planners in the tech industry who claim they can’t find qualified women to speak at their conferences, meanwhile, she points to this list containing over 1,000 of them.
A group of more than 400 tech entrepreneurs and CEOs have formed a coalition called Founders for Change to press for greater diversity and inclusion in the venture capital industry. The group includes the chief executives of major startups like Dropbox, Lyft, and Airbnb, as well as public companies like Stitch Fix, and represents a reversal of the traditional founder-VC relationship, Pui-Wing Tam reports for the New York Times:
On Tuesday, in a statement underlining the importance of diversity in the tech industry, the tech executives said the racial and gender makeup of a venture capital firm would be “an important consideration” when they were raising money …
The entrepreneurs’ public statement is unusual. In Silicon Valley’s start-up ecosystem, founders and investors have generally maintained a delicate power equilibrium. Venture capitalists strive to get into the hottest start-ups, aiming for a big payoff when those companies go public or are sold. Entrepreneurs, in turn, take money and guidance from the investors to help their start-ups grow and flourish.