Lack of Tech Workforce Diversity in Silicon Valley – my $0.02

Green Ball

Earlier today, on a Wall St. Journal tech blog stats were published showing that a large majority of workers at well known Silicon Valley tech companies are white or asian.  This follows some news of the last several weeks where tech companies are acknowledging this.
The question is:  Is this a problem?
And the next:  If so, can it be solved?
And lastly:  If so, what is the one solution or what are the multiple solutions to the problem?
I’d argue that it is a problem.  The world is in a knowledge economy and the more Americans that can participate in the knowledge economy, the better for America.  The lack of diversity reflects a lack of participation in the field and thus portions of the country not participating in the economy, as full as possible.
Yes, there is extrapolation going on here – large companies predominantly housed in Silicon Valley is being used as a proxy for all tech, and tech being a proxy for the best portions of the economy in the nation.
But, when they say that small companies grow the economy, it isn’t someone selling stamps or vitamins, it is companies that have venture capital like the beginnings of Facebook and such.
Tech companies start with some tech guys with an idea.  They borrow.  Then they go for venture capital.  Venture Capitalists want to ensure that the plan is sound and/or that they have some proven leadership.  The companies try to staff up with the best staff they can.
Meanwhile, the tech companies are in fierce competition for talent (except when they collude to keep wages down). So, tech companies in Silicon Valley have glorious headquarters and are willing to shuttle staff down from San Francisco.
So, when selecting candidates from college, what would tech companies look for?  Graduates with STEM degrees, of course.  And what does that diversity look like?  According to this site, , in 2011 75% of grads in Comp Sci were White or Asian.
In addition, those who start college pursuing STEM degrees, under represented minorities are less successful in completing those programs than others.  And this can be tied to how they perform in high school.  Minorities are known not to perform as well. In 2013 it was said, “This year only 15 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos met or exceeded the SAT benchmark for college and career readiness.”
So, this does not really seem to be a problem with the tech companies.  You don’t hear how NFL teams aren’t recruiting enough from the Ivy League.  Going back to the question:  Is this a problem?  Yes.  More specifically, is it the tech companies’ problem?  No.
Can the problem of minority participation in tech be solved?  Maybe.  It needs to be done in earlier years.  In high school and earlier, logic and cause & effect, need to be taught.  Taking on the subject of the problem with public schools is beyond this blog, but the point is that the diversity in tech outcomes are results of issues long before it gets to employers.

Off soapbox,

Jim – 06/19/14 @itbycrayon View Jim Surlow's profile on LinkedIn (I don’t accept general LinkedIn invites – but if you say you read my blog, it will change my mind)

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3 Reasons why military veterans make good employees

Green Ball

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with numerous veterans of our armed forces. There are many experiences which I believe are common to the military that transfer over to civilian employment. I have not served in the military, but I believe my experience with former military colleagues and screening many job applicants over the past 20 years allows me to offer an opinion.
Frequently, employers look for experience in a certain industries or environments: Experience in a software development environment, or a service provider environment, a manufacturing environment, a sales environment, a financial services environment, or an academic environment, etc. etc.
So, what does a former soldier have to offer a civilian firm? [ Given that I’ve spent a majority of my years with IT firms, my explanation will be IT slanted ]
#3 Veterans have experience dealing with difficult people. Soldiers are trained to maintain composure in the face of drill sergeants and other superiors. That training is supposed to translate into the field, where the enemies are trying to instigate conflict. Do you think they are going to lose composure when an angry customer is yelling? Do you think that they are going to escalate conflict in the workplace?
I’ve seen two incidents where a manager was yelling at an employee and a response would have been justified. But, in both cases, one with a former Army private and another with an Army Officer who was in the reserves, neither spoke a strong word which would have escalated the situation.
#2 Veterans show a loyalty to the team. In a sense, this is related to the former. The teammates make up the unit. As the saying goes, “there is no ‘I’ in team”. So, team success is important. In the military, if the guy who has your back isn’t there, your future won’t be so bright. Employers want employees to care about the company’s success. Directors and VPs want to see teams that are successful, not just individuals. Heroes are good, but companies want to know that they can execute without them. In addition, managers are concerned about team chemistry. Guys who aren’t interested in team success tend to work against team chemistry.
I worked with a manager who had previously come from the Air Force (if memory serves that was the branch). He was loyal to the staff he inherited. He backed them up. He assumed responsibility for the team’s performance and was intent on getting the team to function together.
#1 Veterans are resilient to difficult times. In the workplace, change is frequent. In business, if you don’t change, you will be out of business: refine the organization, race to market, respond to competitors, personnel changes, new regulations, buyouts, spinoffs, etc. etc. Some of the changes or even rumors of changes can be overwhelming to staff. In business, projects can be started, stopped and then restarted – or direction switched and switched back. Military staff are trained to prepare for change. Just as complete information may not be available to staff, military staffers are used to having incomplete info and knowing that those above may have more information to make decisions, as opposed to what is public. In addition, conditions that soldiers are placed under are more stressful and more life impacting than what happens in the typical civilian job.
I worked with a former marine who while under a great deal of pressure to deliver. The project was important and it was behind on the timelines and had a fair amount of attention. He said something along the lines of: “Hey, compared to rolling in a tank through Fallujah (Iraq) and being shot at – this is pretty easy.”
The net result is that veterans bring commitment without anxiety. That is a value to any organization.

Jim – 11/10/13
@itbycrayon

View Jim Surlow's profile on LinkedIn (I don’t accept general LinkedIn invites – but if you say you read my blog, it will change my mind)