WUOMFM

Google opens Howard University campus in Silicon Valley to boost diversity

Mar 30, 2017

The tech industry has a diversity problem.

In 2014, Hispanics made up only 4.4% of the professional-level workforce at the headquarters and local branches of the top 75 Silicon Valley tech firms, according to the Center for American Progress. And blacks made up just 1.9% of these firms.

Google recently released its workplace diversity data, which revealed black employees represent only 2% of the company's workforce, according to NPR. And although the company admits to falling short of its diversity goal, it's taking a step toward changing that with a new campus called Howard University West.

Twenty-five students from Howard University—- a historically black university—will spend this summer at Google's headquarters in California. The students will be trained and mentored by Google engineers and instructed in the classroom by Howard professors.

The tech sector's diversity issue is nothing new. But why does the problem persist?

Many tech companies say it's because there's a lack of qualified, diverse candidates to choose from. Laszlo Bock is Google's former senior vice president of people operations. He said previously in a blog post:

There are lots of reasons why technology companies like Google struggle to recruit and retain women and minorities. For example, women earn roughly 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics each make up under 10 percent of U.S. college grads and each collect fewer than 10 percent of degrees in CS majors. So we've invested a lot of time and energy in education.

Others say it's a recruiting problem: that the candidates are there, but tech companies just aren't looking for them. Aline Lerner is the co-founder and CEO of interviewing.io, an anonymous technical interviewing platform. She said in a post on Medium:

When I started recruiting there was still a huge emphasis on pedigree. Even the smallest startups with no brand insisted that everyone they interviewed came from 1 of 5 top schools, or 1 of 10 top companies. That left out a huge long tail of candidates who were, arguably, just as capable. 

Ride-sharing company Uber released its first report on workforce makeup this week. The report revealed a technical workforce that is largely white and male. Black and Hispanics account for 1% and 2.1% of tech staff, respectively. The company wrote in the report:

In addition to moving the ball forward on all the data above, we recognize the relative lack of diversity across all forms of leadership, including on our board of directors, and will be thoughtful about diversity as the company grows.

Howard University and Google hope to train 750 students over the next five years and to make the program available to students from all historically black colleges and universities.

You can listen to a story about the Howard University West program from KQED Public Media below:

Tags: