Silicon Valley's tech workforce diversity has long way to go, say feds

In recent years, major high-tech firms have started releasing workforce diversity data, along with a promise to improve. And there is much room for improvement, according to federal officials.

Among the top 75 Silicon Valley tech firms, whites make up 47% of the workforce, Asian Americans 41%, Hispanics, 6% and African Americans 3%, according to an analysisby the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The commission held a hearing Wednesday on diversity in technology and to consider ways to improve it.

Women account for 30% of the workforce at these 75 firms.

The high-tech firms included in this list of 75 were based on a San Jose Mercury News ranking of top technology firms in Silicon Valley.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The diversity makeup at 75 top Silicon Valley firms.

The diversity makeup of these Silicon Valley high-tech firms is very different from the national employment picture.

When compared to overall private industry employment, the tech sector nationally -- not just Silicon Valley -- employed a larger share of whites (63% to 68%), as well as a larger share of Asian Americans (6% to 14%) and a smaller share of African Americans (14% to 7%) and Hispanics (14% to 8%).

Employers with a workforce greater than 100 file reports to the EEOC about their employees' race, color, gender and national origin.

Nationally, 64% of the employees in high-tech are men versus 52% in the broader workforce. Women account for 36% of the tech workforce, versus comprising 48% of the broader workforce.

The EEOC called the overall findings "stark," and Jenny Yang, the EEOC chair, said that "expanding diversity and inclusion is critical to unlocking the full potential of tomorrow's economy."

The EEOC doesn't collect age or disability data, but age may be a particular problem in the tech sector, according to Laurie A. McCann, an attorney with the AARP Foundation, which advocates in courts for older people.

"The rampant age discrimination in the technology sector is perhaps most evident in companies' hiring policies and practices, which are designed to attract and hire younger employees," said McCann, in her prepared testimony.

McCann, to illustrate her point, cited the use of term "digital natives" in job ads. That refers to someone who grew up using tech. "This distinction is clearly age-based and can be used to screen out older applicants," she said.

Ben Jealous, a partner at Kapor Capital, who also testified, said within the start-up landscape there are some practices that ensure disparities. One is the controversial practice of "pattern-matching," or investing in founders that match previous patterns of successful startup founders, he said.

"Given the demographic profile of the industry and of the entrepreneurs who have previously been funded, a young, white, male, Stanford graduate with several years of experience in the tech industry will undoubtedly match the pattern of predictive success in a way that women, people of color, graduates from less elite institutions, and individuals who do not have experience working for a VC-backed firm in the past, will not," Jealous said in his testimony.

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