Stanford & USA Today Attack the “Tech Diversity Gap”

As part of its ongoing series on “Inequity In Silicon Valley,” USA TODAY published a long and questionable article Monday, “How To Close The Tech Diversity Gap,” reporting on a conference at the Stanford Law School the paper co-sponsored with Stanford last week.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was much in evidence, both in spirit and in body (he was mentioned 10 times in the article). Indeed, even Jackson’s biographer, a Stanford lecturer, was there, declaring that “bringing these people together to talk about these issues is historic.” And according to USA TODAY’s rather breathless report, “the USA TODAY/Stanford Diversity in Tech summit meeting … with Jesse Jackson and executives from Google and Facebook was nothing less than a breakthrough on an issue that has vexed the nation since slavery was abolished.”

Unfortunately, readers looking for evidence of that “breakthrough” in USA TODAY’s report will be sorely disappointed. What they will find instead is rote-like repetition of the all-too-familiar doctrinal dogmas of the “diversity” catechism.

A few examples:

  • “Underrepresentation” = Inequity. Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH coalition have long emphasized this “divide in Silicon Valley, where the percentage of employees who are black or Hispanic are in the single digits compared with 12% and 16% of the U.S. workforce, respectively.”
  • Companies Must Reflect Their Customers. “[A]s the composition of their customers becomes more diverse, [tech] companies have no choice but to hire people who reflect their customer base and to build more inclusive workplaces.” Jesse Jackson “urged representatives from Facebook and Google to increase their minority outreach programs…. Those executives in turn responded that they were keen to have their staffs better reflect the national demographic ….” (Companies really “have no choice” but to reflect their customers? Has anyone told Sony or Samsung? And why reflect only the “national” demographic?)
  • Discrimination To Produce “Diversity” Is Fine. “Tristan Walker, an African-American entrepreneur, has a Palo Alto start-up — Walker & Co. — which he has deliberately staffed with almost exclusively women and minorities.”
  • Hidden Bias Is a Bigger Barrier Than Bigotry. “Overt bigotry doesn’t play a major role in this issue, which in fact makes it a more difficult problem to root out, said panelist Richard Thompson Ford, Stanford law professor and author of The Race Card. ‘Bias (in tech) is more readily concealed,’ he said.” (Lack of evidence of bias simply proves how well hidden it is.)
  • Diversity Is Essential For Innovation. ”Studies show that companies with gender and ethnic diversity are more creative and more profitable,“ asserted Tristan Walker, the discriminatory employer. “Diversity goes hand-in-hand with innovation and ideas,” claimed a Stanford graduate student in civil engineering, “pointing out that just 1% of Stanford’s graduate school of engineering students are black.” (Presumably innovation and ideas are in short supply among  Stanford engineers.)
  • Companies Ignore Enormous Pools Of Untapped Talent. “‘We may not have seen tech’s best days because we haven’t seen all its best players,’ Jackson said, drawing an analogy to the breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, which presaged a golden era of breathtaking talent in the sport.”

These announcements, ubiquitous wherever diversiphiles gather, are more like devout, sectarian articles of faith rather than assertions capable of being tested against evidence. The one possible exception is the claim that “studies” show that diversity promotes innovation. Perhaps the most often cited of those studies is a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Lu Hong and Scott Page, “Groups of Diverse Problem Solvers Can Outperform Groups of High-Ability Problem Solvers.” That analysis, however, has just been utterly devastated by Prof. Abigail Thompson, a mathematician at the University of California, Davis, in a paper published last month by the American Mathematical Society, “Does Diversity Trump Ability? An Example of the Misuse of Mathematics in the Social Sciences.”

As evidence of the pervasive “inequity” of the high tech companies and the tech graduates produced by the universities that provide their employees, clicking on a link inside the online USA TODAY article, “Lack of diversity could undercut Silicon Valley,” leads to a series of graphs showing the workforces of seven leading high tech companies by gender and ethnicity. Google, to pick one example, is 61% White, 30% Asian, 3% Hispanic, and 2% Black.

These numbers, similar to those at the other companies, present some serious obstacles to diversification that, on the evidence of the USA TODAY article, no one at the Stanford conference addressed. First, “whites alone,” who according to the most recent U.S. Census data make up 77.7% of the U.S. population, are seriously underrepresented. Next, “Asians alone,” at 5.3% of the U.S. population, are seriously overrepresented. Thus increasing the proportion of blacks and Hispanics will require significantly reducing the numbers of Asians — reproducing in high tech companies the pervasive discrimination against them that is endemic to affirmative action in education —and presumably hiring even a smaller number of whites.

But if high tech companies must reflect their customers, why should so much attention be bestowed on blacks and Hispanics? Why should the effort be made to reflect only “the national demographic”? As Maxine Williams, Facebook’s “global head of diversity,” noted, “It’s not like we are creating something for use in a local market. It is a truly global market. More than 80% of Facebook users do not live in North America. We can’t afford to exclude anyone.”

If Ms. Williams believes what she said and heard repeatedly at the Stanford conference, presumably Facebook (57% white, 34% Asian, 4% Hispanic, 2% Black) must be busy making plans to stop “excluding” representative numbers of Muslims and other underrepresented religious, ethnic, and national groups among its international customers.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

4 thoughts on “Stanford & USA Today Attack the “Tech Diversity Gap”

  1. (Lack of evidence of bias simply proves how well hidden it is.)
    —-
    Which is the basic argument of all conspiracy theories: lack of proof of a conspiracy is _de facto_ proof of the existence of a conspiracy successful enough to suppress any proof of its existence.

  2. If you take the population of people with an IQ of 115 or higher–which is required for any math, engineering, or computer science job–you’ll find these companies are as diverse as they can be.

    It would be horrendous if companies were forced to dumb down their companies to make “Reverend” Jackson happy.

  3. Excellent piece on these sacred cow beliefs that the diversity mania is based on. Imagine the destruction of “diversity” jobs that would occur if Americans stopped thinking that every group of people must have proportional “representation” for every possible group and we all evaluated individuals without regard to their ancestry.

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