The Genie Is Out of the Bottle for Silicon Valley: Lack of Diversity

As the U.S. technology sector has boomed, women and minorities have largely been left behind. This is what’s clear in the wake of recent disclosures on workforce demographics from a handful of tech companies.

On June 25, Facebook became the latest tech giant to publicly release its demographic data, which indicated that men represent nearly 70% of all global employees. Worse yet, of the 31% of women in the company, a mere 15% work in jobs that are actually technical. (Women hold 47% of non-technical jobs.) When it comes to the top of the pyramid, although Facebook boasts COO Sheryl Sandberg, more than three-quarters of senior-level jobs (77%) globally are held by men. Among these senior-level executives in the U.S., nearly three-quarters (74%) are white, leaving just a quarter of the pie for everyone else (19% are Asian, 4% Hispanic, 2% black, and 1% two or more races).

Yahoo released a similar report two weeks ago, revealing that although the tech company is among the few with a female CEO, less than a quarter (23%) of people in VP roles or higher are women. Yahoo’s figures match Facebook’s exactly when it comes to percentage of women globally in technical jobs: while women comprise nearly 40% of global employees, a disappointing 15% have jobs related to technology. Yahoo has a higher percentage of non-white workers than Facebook (50%)—but most (39%) are Asian, with Hispanic (4%), black (2%), and those of more than one race (4%) still sorely underrepresented.

Similarly, Google’s first diversity report, published at the end of May, showed that men account for 70% of the global headcount and 83% of the tech staff. Women occupy only 21% of leadership positions and 17% of tech jobs at the company. While these numbers are incrementally higher than Yahoo’s or Facebook’s, it’s notable that Google has no female executive officers, and only one woman on its senior leadership team. Google’s workforce is 61% white.

While these and other tech companies (including LinkedIn) have a long way to go in improving their track record on diversity, these disclosures demonstrate a first step of commitment toward accountability and future change. The fact that Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and LinkedIn have chosen to submit this information to the general public puts pressure on other tech companies to do the same. The message behind these actions is that keeping this problem a secret is not the solution. Tech companies can no longer hide from the glaring reality that they are still largely male and white—especially when it comes to the top positions and (in most cases) the tech jobs.

Working closely with a number of tech companies, SHAMBAUGH Leadership has seen that several important interconnections need to be addressed in parallel within an organization to effect change in this area. Here are a few thoughts that reflect important steps for organizations and leaders to take:

  • Don’t hide behind the numbers. Accept the reality of where your company is at currently, and admit that you are not where you want to be. Commit to a roadmap for taking action to improve the demographic data.
  • Build a case. Clearly establish the business case at every level of your organization regarding the importance for having women and minorities in leadership roles.
  • Hold leaders accountable. Leadership teams should be accountable for addressing their own blind spots and biases, and should hold their managers responsible for recruiting, advancing, and retaining top talented women and minorities. (See previous blog, “Take a Deeper Dive.”)
  • Engage men as champions. Pull men off the sidelines and engage them as advocates, sponsors, and mentors. (See, “Engaging Men as Champions.”)
  • Be proactive. Provide targeted coaching, cross-experiences, and development programs that not only address women’s “sticky floors,” but provide the right visibility and opportunities for advancement.
  • Share the power. Women at the top not only need to wield their power by creating the right culture and opportunities for other women, but share their power with other women around them. Having women in key roles can rewire the company’s DNA!
  • Make it a business imperative. Avoid making this a diversity initiative—spread the responsibility and ownership to the business.

This workplace environment creates the perfect storm for organizations—whether technology or other industries—to build and execute a roadmap to sustain the full spectrum of human talent. This spectrum must include the other half of the workforce: women and minorities. Organizations that take the right action will be those that win the war on talent, seizing a long-lasting competitive advantage. It’s simply better business.

In my next blog, I’ll feature organizations that are doing it right, and who we can learn from.

To find out how organizations can eliminate outdated assumptions and move toward true cultural transformation, visit A SHAMBAUGH consultant can help your company take a deeper dive on this critical issue.

Rebecca Shambaugh is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor,” “Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton,” and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

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Rebecca Shambaugh

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