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[July 26, 2014]
Diversity at tech companies needs help [The Philadelphia Inquirer :: ]
(Philadelphia Inquirer (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 26--'I want to build beautiful things the world wants to use." So said an application to an internship program with Girls Who Code, a national group that encourages young women to consider careers in computer science.
Lots of women want to code, design, and be part of the communications/Internet/Web/mobile world. So do lots of people from all sorts of racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds.
Problem: That world is a male shop. A white male shop. Always has been.
As a report released Wednesday by Twitter Inc. makes clear, the tech workplace is not diverse. It's predominantly male and predominantly white, though significantly Asian.
Twitter says its non-tech staff is pretty much 50-50. But then, overall staff is 70 percent male, leadership is 79 percent, and the tech staff is 90 percent. Nine guys for every lady. Which is, by the way, the ratio for the entire U.S. tech workforce.
Facebook (COO: Sheryl Sandberg) and Yahoo (CEO: Marissa Mayer) say 15 percent of their techs are women, and Google and LinkedIn say theirs are 17 percent. Better, but it still stinks.
Kimberly Bryant is founder of Black Girls Code, based in San Francisco (but look for a Philadelphia chapter soon). "The Twitter report didn't shock us," she says, "but honestly, Latinos are something like 2 percent of the tech staff, and we couldn't even find the line for Native Americans." And people of African or African American descent are hardly there: At Twitter, only 2 percent of all staff and 1 percent of techs are black. Facebook, Yahoo, and Google say 2 percent of their staffs are. ("Our guess," says Bryant, wryly, "is that black women are less, far less, than 1 percent.") According to the Institute of Education Sciences, blacks get 11.5 percent of all U.S. degrees in computer science. So -? Plus, the lack of diversity in social-media tech doesn't make business sense. Yasmine Mustafa is founder of Girl Develop It Philadelphia; she's also an entrepreneur. Her company, UseRoar.com, develops self-defense accessories for women. (Her offices are currently hosted by Interstate General Media, parent company of The Inquirer.) She says she started Girl Develop It, an offshoot of a New York program, "because so many women interested in computer science have never experienced an encouraging classroom atmosphere." As a business person, she finds the imbalances at Twitter odd. "If you have a broad range of people from different backgrounds," she says, "you're bound to make better business decisions and better products." The companies know. In a penitent blog Wednesday, Janet Van Huysse, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Twitter, wrote: "It makes good business sense that Twitter employees are representative of the vast and varied backgrounds of our users around the world. . . . And like our peers, we have a lot of work to do." Blacks and Latinos make up about 30.3 percent of our population, according to census figures -- and both are overrepresented on social media. Seventy percent of all Internet-using whites use those media. But for blacks, it's 75 percent, and Latinos are at 80 percent. Blacks and Latinos who own cellphones use them for mobile social media more than whites do. And that activity is growing.
"This thing, 'Black Twitter'? It's a real thing," Bryant says. "African Americans use Twitter as a primary platform for their community. It makes no sense that they're so underrepresented." "Twitter use skews more heavily toward African Americans, younger users, urban, and mobile," says Aaron Smith, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, who is heavily involved in its Internet tracking survey. He stresses age as one of the biggest factors.
Efforts are underway to diversify the tech workforce. A Twitter campaign by groups such as Color of Change and the Rainbow Push Coalition helped urge Twitter to release its diversity numbers. Groups such as Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code encourage young women interested in computer science, as do local groups such as TechGirlz (which concentrates on middle school) and the Chester County-based Girls Exploring Tomorrow's Technology. And there are women's groups such as Girl Develop It and She Tech Philly, and events such as the all-woman hackathon LadyHacks.
The Web/Net themselves are not open to all: A little less than 40 percent of the global population can use them. So while the U.S. companies that ignited the social-media boom figure out how to diversify their makers, the rest of the world puzzles over how to open the Web wider to the world's users.
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