Blacks, Latinos and women lose ground in Silicon Valley

February 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm 6 comments

Hispanics and blacks made up a smaller share of the valley’s computer workers in 2008 than they did in 2000, a Mercury News review of federal data shows, even as their share grew across the nation. Women in computer-related occupations saw declines around the country, but they are an even smaller proportion of the work force here.

The trend is striking in a region where Hispanics are nearly one-quarter of the working-age population — five times their percentage of the computer work force — and when dual-career couples and female MBAs are increasingly the norm.

via Blacks, Latinos and women lose ground at Silicon Valley tech companies – San Jose Mercury News.

While it may be true that talent does not distribute evenly, it’s hard to believe that so few Hispanics, blacks, and women have the talent for Silicon Valley tech firms.  There’s an explanation later in the piece that speaks to computing education themes.

Other reasons, experts say, include a history of valley companies hiring well-trained tech workers from the Pacific Rim, a weak pipeline of homegrown candidates, and a hypercompetitive business environment that leaves little time to develop workers.

Those latter two points are issues that we’ve discussed previously here.  Computing education in the United States is in poor shape.  There are few opportunities for working adults to develop themselves and improve their marketability in technology. The rest of the article points out that the problem is getting better nationally, but not in Silicon Valley, but because the Valley serves as the model for the rest of the country (“This is like ‘top gun school’ for Techies,” said one expert quoted in the article), the concern is that the trends there could be a drag on the rest of the country.

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Equity and Opportunity Threatened by Growing National “Excellence Gap” Did PCs influence decline in female participation in computing?

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erik Engbrecht  |  February 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    “There are few opportunities for adults to develop themselves and improve their marketability in technology.”

    I think the difference in expectations for self-sufficiency between you and many of the privileged white/asian males that dominate the tech industry is profound.

    I think there’s a subculture in technology with values and expectations that are fundamentally at odds with other parts of society. Hispanic culture has a reputation for placing a lot of value of family and community. I don’t think that is at odds with having a career in technology, but I think it is directly at odds with being great at it. With the exception of a few geniuses with endless wells of personal energy, we all have to ask ourselves “how much am I willing to sacrifice for my profession?” That holds true as much outside of technology as inside.

    With the exception of a few people in extreme circumstances, your statement is absurd for someone who really fits within the technology subculture. A motivated person who is willing to sacrifice should be able to find the resources and teach themselves.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 17, 2010 at 7:52 am

      Erik, in that comment, I was thinking about Caroline Simard’s work about female mid-level technical managers. They do the management work of the guys, the family work that the guys don’t do, which leaves no time for development — and the companies no longer help. The Athena Report showed that men in high tech drop out of the field about as much as men in engineering, but women in high tech drop out at twice the rate of women in engineering. The demands of keeping-up in high tech may be greater. The cultural expectations with a lack of opportunity within the company inhibit success. I don’t question these women’s motivation.

      • 3. Erik Engbrecht  |  February 17, 2010 at 8:56 am

        But motivations are important. You have a woman facing conflicting cultural expectations. On one side she’s expected to pursue her own technology development with maniacal fervor. On the other she’s expected to care for her family beyond what is expected of men.

        There’s no doubt that she faces a very tough, and very personal, decision as to how the balance should be struck. I also don’t doubt that in this situation women face a much greater conflict of societal pressures than men.

        But the fact that they are trapped between pressures doesn’t change the fact that they are making a choice, and the motivations behind that choice are important. It’s also important that they recognize that they are making a choice. People (both men and women) often don’t consciously make a choice, and then lament the result of the choice implied by their actions.

        Time an energy spent in one realm of a person’s life cannot be reclaimed and applied to another. No amount of company help can change that.

  • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  February 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Erik, are you arguing that Silicon Valley has few women and Hispanics because they have chosen family over career? And thus, if they wanted, they could do better in their career if they emphasized family less? (Related article:

    An argument that NCWIT and Anita Borg Institute make is that companies are more successful (e.g., more innovative) because they involve women (and presumably other minorities) in their product designs. Diversity means diverse perspectives, and diverse perspectives need to new products and new ideas that you might not have otherwise. That suggests that it’s in the companies’ best interest to find a path to success for the women and members of minority groups.

    • 5. Erik Engbrecht  |  February 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      I hadn’t seen the specific study but I think on numerous occasions I’ve seen the statistics from it. Although I seem to recall that when a man and a woman decide to live together, the “net housework performed” increases for both parties. There is commonly a substantial disconnect in terms of “minimum cleanliness standards.”

      Yes, I’m arguing that emphasized family less they could do better in their careers, although it’s somewhat of a side point. I actually think many people lead better lives because they choose “more family less career,” and ultimately I think people should choose what works best for them. But this line of my argument is mostly for illustrative purposes.

      I’ll try to explain myself a little better.

      First, I think workplace discrimination based on race/gender/sexual orientation/etc is wrong and generally highly foolish. I’m going to call this “illegitimate discrimination.”

      Second, I think workplace discrimination based on quality of work produced, quantity of work produced, availability/flexibility to do work under potentially unusual or strenuous circumstances, etc is right and generally a wise course of action. I’m going to call this “objective legitimate discrimination.”

      There’s a third category workplace discrimination. It’s based on traits which are reasonably believed to be correlated to improved performance. These include things such education, fit within an organization’s culture, and pursuits outside of work that relate to the person’s job. I’m going to call this “subjective legitimate discrimination” because it’s based heavily judgement.

      My hypothesis is: Much of what is commonly treated as forms of illegitimate discrimination (or being caused by it) is really forms of subjective legitimate discrimination. Furthermore, I think this misclassification is highly destructive because it makes what could be productive, rational discussions about expectations taboo and potentially prohibited due to liability issues.

      The is partially caused by the fact that many subjective legitimate forms of discrimination are based on traits that are highly race and/or gender correlated. For example, if an employer considers code contributions to open source projects to be a strong indicator of capabilities, the employer will end up hiring a promoting people who resemble the relatively homogenous community of open source developers.

      Or, probably more commonly, and employer may expect it’s best employees (or all of them) to stay abreast of latest technological developments and have a good working knowledge of them, without providing work time to do so. People with outside interests or obligations will find this expectation hard to meet, and many will feel slighted because the expectations even exist.

      A woman who feels discriminated against because she’s a woman becomes a helpless victim. A woman who feels she’s being held to a unreasonable standard faces choices. She can move on to another employer. She can accept that there will be a cap on her advancement. She can sacrifice another part of her life to meet it. She can argue against it and possibly win, or negotiate for assistance in meeting it (e.g. child care assistance or something else that will allow her to better focus).

      Reversing the perspective a bit, if an employer has an expectation that is a form of legitimate discrimination, and the employer feels that it is likely to be viewed as illegitimate discrimination, the employer is likely to leave it unstated. This makes it more likely for an employee to perceive it as illegitimate discrimination (because how do they know), and takes away the employee’s ability to make an direct choice in how to deal with it.

      In my opinion calling for employers to pursue policies of racial and gender diversity perpetuates the problem, because it encourages them to apply illegitimate forms of discrimination. The rational appeals for it often centers around the benefits of having diverse perspectives. Selecting people for diverse perspectives is a subjective legitimate form of discrimination. So basically such suggestions are saying “do what’s wrong in order to accomplish what is right.” Statistically that can work, because our race, gender, cultural and socioeconomic background all influence who we are and what we become. But it working doesn’t change the fact that it perpetuates a line of reasoning that really should have reduced to statistical anomaly status by now.

  • […] the product of class privilege.  Those class distinctions relate to recent discussions here about Blacks, Latinos, and Women in Silicon Valley and the non-open culture of open source software development. Unfortunately, computer geeks are […]


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