Articles complaining about the lack of diversity in a particular area or sector of the economy are a dime a dozen, but the one in Friday’s USA Today complaining about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is worth examining closely because it exemplifies so many of the flaws in the arguments of those obsessed with diversity.
Several companies, including Google and Facebook, recently released a breakdown of their workforces and USA Today created some pie charts “showing that four of the tech sector's largest firms remain largely white and male.” Asians, who make up almost 40 percent of the workforce at these companies, might be amused to know that they’re now considered white. Perhaps their history is like that of the Jews—once you’ve achieved a certain degree of success, you’re considered “white.”
Leaving that aside, the piece goes on to explain that “some of the largest and most powerful companies confirm what many had suspected: Opportunity here is not created equal. Blacks and Hispanics are largely absent, and women are underrepresented in Silicon Valley — from giant companies to start-ups to venture capital firms.” Let’s just take those two sentences because this is where the problem lies. The fact that blacks and Hispanics and women are underrepresented does not mean that “opportunity here is not created equal.” It means that the outcomes are not equal.
Scholars like Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom have written extensively about the ways in which particular populations may be more inclined to go into some professions than others or live in some places rather than others. The population is simply unequally distributed in a variety of ways. Human beings make different choices for themselves.
The argument in the piece is familiar though. Because people in Silicon Valley tend to hire people they know they restrict themselves to a small circle.
Silicon Valley is very network driven, and hiring is very referral based, says Laura Weidman Powers, co-founder of Code 2040, which works to bring blacks and Hispanics into companies. It's "the guy in your dorm, the guy dating your sister, how Larry (Page) and Sergey (Brin) started Google," she says.
There is no evidence presented that Silicon Valley is any more restrictive about the way it finds employees than any other sector of the economy, but it’s enough just to have the accusation made.
The most absurd part of this article, though, is an interview with Tristan Walker, 29, who worked at Twitter and Foursquare. “He's pursuing the Silicon Valley dream by starting his own company, Walker & Co. Brands, a modern personal-care brand for people of color.” We are told that Walker, an African-American, “recently landed $6.9 million in funding from a top venture capital firm — but not before being rejected by every other firm he approached.”
Oh no. You mean he’s been rejected by “every other firm he approached,” just like many whites no doubt. But then he got almost $7 million? Bet that doesn’t happen to everyone in Silicon Valley. Why pick this guy as an example? As the article notes, “The experience frustrated him, but he says he has never experienced explicit racial bias in Silicon Valley.”
At the end of the piece, we are told that Walker has had no trouble finding qualified women and minorities to work for him. Which is not entirely surprising. He runs a health and beauty company for people of color. When you write an article about Silicon Valley, the assumption is that we are talking about tech companies, not beauty ones. Maybe time to go back to the drawing board on this one.