Monday, January 22nd 2018

How to Fix Silicon Valley’s Race Problem

January 9th, 2015 in Diversity by

SiliconValley Image3

What’s missing from this image of four young white men and one Pakistani-American? Well, women for one thing. Blacks too. Not to mention Hispanics. But the sad truth is, the promo pic for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” the sitcom about a handful of engineers who write code for a killer app and launch a startup company in the heart of techdom, is actually true to life.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the problem: Internet companies in Silicon Valley, and now I’m referring to the region in northern California where many of the world’s most innovative and dominant tech companies call headquarters, are remarkably bereft of ethnic and gender diversity. At LinkedIn, for instance, just 2% of the work force is black, and 4% is Hispanic. Google is 70% male, with 91% either white or Asian. The percentages at Facebook and Apple are similar. When it comes to executive leadership positions or representatives on boards of directors, the figures get far worse.

With a record of inclusion this shabby, the time has come for action. So, I applaud companies like Intel and Cisco Systems, Valley icons that have each taken steps to address the workforce disparities at their companies. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced Jan. 6 that his company plans to dramatically increase the number of women and minority workers it employs within five years, and will commit $300 million to the effort. The announcement makes Intel the first major Silicon Valley company to set goals to increase the diversity of its workforce.

Meanwhile, Cisco became the first-ever lead sponsor of the Executive Leadership Council’s annual conference in October, investing a substantial sum in a conference dedicated to supporting achievement and development of black corporate executives. More importantly, Cisco sent more than 80 of its own staff to the conference to kindle relationships with, and even recruit some of the top African American leaders in corporate America.

After all, leadership development is key. The fact is, plenty of immensely qualified black, Latino and women executives already exist who could take over key roles throughout Silicon Valley today. The Executive Leadership Council has more than 400 members in senior VP (and higher) jobs at several of the most influential companies in the world. Some of these execs even have tech experience from working at places like IBM, Xerox and GE. They would bring both extensive skillsets and fresh, innovative perspectives to the Valley’s Internet companies. With such skill and perspective they could help build and lead more of the sort of high-performing teams Valley companies covet.

But not very many executives of color voluntarily pay serious attention to jobs in the Valley. The pay and the weather are attractive enough, but who wants to work in an environment characterized by a corporate culture that seemingly rejects people like you? Who would uproot their family to move to a place where the shopping centers, the restaurants and the schools don’t seem to welcome people like you? Who would want to work for companies with little history of development, opportunity or promotion for executives like you – especially if opportunities beckon in other sectors of the economy and regions of the country?

You get the picture, and its past time Silicon Valley’s stalwarts get the picture too. Don’t they understand that diversity has truly become a business imperative? The new firm I’ve launched (yes, this is a shameless plug!) Global Performance Partners, emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion when it comes to enhancing innovation, building more engaged and entrepreneurial teams, and ultimately boosting the bottom line. But those improvements don’t come unless leadership understands and demands that its organization embrace diversity, and also practice inclusion.

I respect Intel and its multi-million dollar effort to support historically back colleges, for example, in order to fatten the pipeline of engineers of color. Indeed, I’m pleased Krzanich is committed to growing a more diverse workforce at Intel by 2020. But I know that concentrating on the entry level is not sufficient. Without a plan to hire more diverse leaders, and without dedication to creating a corporate culture that develops a new cohort of diverse employees into the next corporate leaders, Intel’s plan will ultimately fail.

Retention and leadership development are equally as important for success as the pipeline for entry-level hires. Getting this right is the only way Silicon Valley will ever look and perform better than the flawed, fictional characters on HBO’s sitcom.