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Setting Goals for Diversity: The Silicon Valley Challenge

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Data & Technology
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With just over 47 million unique visitors a month, Pinterest is far from the largest social media company. Compared with Facebook's 1.4 billion, Whatsapp's 700 million and LinkedIn's 347 million, Pinterest still has a way to go as a Silicon Valley giant.

But it has managed to do something that its tech neighbors haven't: It developed its own metrics and goals for diversity.

Silicon Valley companies have been under pressure to increase their diversity numbers for a while now. This week that spotlight got a bit hotter when members of the Congressional Black Caucus paid a visit to the area to find out why diversity seems to be such a problem in California's tech epicenter.

African American employees account for just 2 percent of Google's workforce. Hispanic representation is similar, at 3 percent, while Caucasian workers account for more than 60 percent of the company's tech labor.

Apple's diversity representation is better, but still reflects a confusing lack of diversity, with African American and Hispanic employees at the bottom end of the spectrum, 7 percent and 11 percent respectively.

Both companies point out another glaring inequity on their blogs: the ratio between men and women. Seventy percent of workers in both companies are men.

It's no surprise that tech companies are looking at this problem. Their users and a variety of advocacy groups are as well. According to the Computing Research Association, 4.5 percent of computer science and engineering graduates in 2013 were African American. More than 6 percent were Hispanic, leaving a gaping hole between those hired and those with related degrees.

Pinterest's stats aren't much better. While 61 percent of its tech workforce is Asian (and 34 percent are Caucasian), roughly 3 percent are Hispanic and 1 percent are African American. As for gender, 82 percent are male, and 18 percent are female, paving a path for Pinterest's recent announcement that it would implement new diversity goals for 2016.

The company's strategy includes expanding its recruiting locations, raising its percentage of female tech workers to 30 percent from 18, and boosting its stats for non-Caucasian workers to 8 percent.

While it hasn't gone into the deets as to how it will make these sweeping changes, Pinterest (and Facebook as well, incidentally) have acknowledged that increasing diversity means increasing diverse representation at management levels as well. Both companies have announced that they will implement "Rooney's Rule" when interviewing potential leadership candidates. The concept is named after the former chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney, who took steps to ensure that the NFL team interviewed minorities as a matter of course for coaching positions. It was a revolutionary concept when he implemented it, and it helped change the culture of NFL leadership.

In an age when diversity is fortunately becoming a boardroom action point, these companies should have no problem coming up with proven steps to improve their numbers. Simply stating that they will increase the hiring of other backgrounds, however, leaves the potential for perpetuating the often unintentional appearance of passing up one candidate for another just because of color.

Other organizations like MGM Resorts, which we wrote on recently, have developed innovative measures to increase diversity in their ranks. The lesson that seems to come through their efforts suggests that successful diversity initiatives aren't just mastered by who is hired but by the breadth of the programs that inspire social change, such as community networks that work for inclusiveness, mentoring and sponsorship programs and, as Pinterest pointed out, a very  broad recruiting system that captures the vision of a diverse cross-section of applicants, and a wide spectrum of diverse points of view.

Maybe companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Pinterest will develop their own list of must-dos that will help other companies understand the complexities that go into increasing ethnic, gender and leadership diversity. No company is the same when it comes to culture or expertise, but as studies now show, the reasons for increasing diversity aren't just humane or ethically driven. They are economically driven -- not to mention good business.

 Social media logos: Roy Blumenthal; San Francisco Bay Area: Craig Howell

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

Read more stories by Jan Lee