Written By Virginia Isaad
The disparity between Latinos/as and African Americans versus white and asians is painfully evident in the tech sector. Facebook’s third diversity report reveals that Latinx and African Americans still make up a tiny fraction of the company’s workforce yet they made up 16 and 12 percent of the workforce in 2014. This is not an isolated case among tech giants. Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter all have a similar percentage of Latino employees making up 8 percent of the workforce at Apple, 4 percent at Microsoft and just 3 percent at Twitter and Google, according to recruiting company 42Hire.
Latinos/as enrollment in college continues to increase at a rate greater than African American, whites, and Asians according the Pew Hispanic center and they’ll reportedly represent more than 50 percent of the workforce by 2050. If Latinos in the US were a nation, they would constitute the 12th largest economy in the world. With so much power in numbers in the US, why is it that some of the most powerful companies don’t reflect this within their workforce?
Diversity experts have astutely pointed out that — despite what tech companies say — this is not just a pipeline problem. “There are a ton of opportunities to increase demographic representation in tech companies with the people that already exist in the workforce,” Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a diversity consultancy that works with many Silicon Valley firms, told the Wall Street Journal.
To widen the diversity pool, companies need to widen the networks they use to recruit and feed the innovation economy. They can start by recruiting at colleges and universities with large Latinx student bodies. Beyond college, they must tap into and build meaningful relationships with those who are experts in diversity: the communities themselves. Wallbreakers, founded by Latina Andrea Guendelman, is one such community that uniquely focuses on connecting Latinx millennials with employers, all while building the supportive community necessary to ensure that the diverse pipeline of professionals will remain at their jobs.
If a diverse pool of applicants exists, then the problem is that tech companies are not connecting effectively. Moreover, once hired, minority employees face significant cultural challenges in predominately white, male companies.
“People inclined to come into tech are dipping their toes in and deciding to leave before ever actually arriving. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that this is not a welcoming place. In the case of women of color in STEM fields overall, 100 percent report experiencing gender bias. If you were told that 100 percent of people like you face bias in a field, how inclined would you be to give it a shot?” wrote Nicole Sanchez.
Innovation companies are only recruiting at a handful of places including elite universities where the student body is primarily white. Research conducted by Wired Magazine found that Stanford, UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, and MIT are among the most popular for recruiting by tech companies.
But a majority of talented Latinx may not be attending these colleges. They may not even have these schools on their radar. Guendelman recalls meeting Alejandra Pinon, a recent graduate from a Mexican middle class family who was the first in her family to go to college. She was the valedictorian of her class and was admitted to engineering at the University of New Mexico . When Guendelman mentioned Stanford to Alejandra and her family they were completely unaware of the school let alone other elite options. Though this is just one example, the numbers don’t lie: 42.5 percent of Stanford’s undergraduate student body is white, 6.5 percent is Mexican/Chicano and 6.1 is “Other Hispanic.”
Not applying to or attending elite schools can have cascading effects for talented Latinx. These schools offer more than an elite education, they also offer the ability to rub elbows with higher society. They offer critical social capital necessary to make good on opportunities. That said, attending an elite institution should not be the only option for talented Latinx to be connected with tech and STEM jobs, which are among some of the most needed and most well-paid.
Each year in the U.S., 13–15 percent of computer science grads are Black and/or Latinx yet the tech sector is only between 3–5 percent Black and/or Latinx. This idea that diversifying the workplace by going outside the elite colleges has some arguing that means “lowering the bar.” “That [however] is a major disconnect,” Juan Gilbert, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Florida in Gainesville told USA Today. “The premise that if you want diversity, you have to sacrifice quality, is false,” he said.
It all comes back to the idea that who you know is more valuable than what you know and while Blacks and Latinos/as strive for upward mobility, those with connections move with ease.
“I created Wallbreakers because I understand the power of networks. I came to the US at the age of 25 to attend Harvard Law School and even though I didn’t know anyone in this country, every job I’ve had since graduating was in one way or another thanks to the Harvard network,” Guendelman says. “We rarely talk about how we acquire the connections to help us get there.”
The problem is finding a way for Latinx to access the existing networks. It is hard for predominantly white male sectors like tech to open up. This is not just a problem for companies and its job seekers, it is a problem for society.
“The white man problem that plagues Silicon Valley is about more than harassment or discrimination. The lack of diversity directly affects what problems Silicon Valley prioritizes solving, what companies are deemed worth funding, what the future of technology will look like — and who gets the biggest benefit from it,” Lux Alptraum wrote in a piece for Quartz.
Latinos are among some of the largest consumers of social media, 23 millionHispanics are active on Facebook every month. “We are using it to connect with family globally, build our social movements, market our companies, and get our news, and yet we are not the architects of design at places like Facebook and Twitter”, Castillo says.
This is a huge social justice issue, which also impacts profits. According to McKinsey & Co., ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely “to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” In short, without diversity we lose across the board.
The solution, according to Guendelman and diversity experts across the board, is to open up educational and employment opportunities to Latinos/as and blacks by creating tools to expand social capital. Guendelman’s older company, BeVisible, partnered with the Latino Startup Alliance to launch a campaign called #PipelineMovement to do just this. Companies are being invited to join diversity experts to think beyond the pipeline conversation and form meaningful relationships with the Latinx community.
“In this country, talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not,” says Leila Janah. Tech companies will say that the pipeline is the issue, but it’s not just a matter of creating a path for diversity, it’s about changing the culture that’s nurtured exclusion.
Unlike LinkedIn, the ubiquitous professional network where it’s easy to make connections but not that easy to actually communicate with those connections in a meaningful way. Nielsen studies show that 18 percent of Latinos use LinkedIn as opposed to whites with 29 percent and blacks with 28 percent. If companies are primarily going there to find talent, they are missing out on a large swath of the talent pool.
WallBreakers, a community for Latinx tech professionals, aims to level the playing field by providing a platform that directly connects Latinxs to recruiters and companies. But WallBreakers is more than a career building platform, it is built on the foundation of a strong and dynamic Latino community.
Latinos are community-oriented, according to the founder of Wallbreakers.
The problem starts at recruiting and carries through to the culture of white, male companies that are inhospitable toward retaining diverse talent. To be truly effective, solutions to the diversity problem must be multi-faceted. They need to recruit from a diverse pool of applicants, and they need a community of support that stands a chance at changing the culture within these companies.
“If Silicon Valley wants to fix the diversity problem, they will need to move beyond the pipeline conversation, and build relationships with the experts in diversity, the very communities from which they are hoping to recruit.”
Virginia is a journalist based in Los Angeles who’s written for publications including Los Angeles magazine, Upworthy, and Elite Daily. She was born in Argentina and raised in the San Fernando Valley along with her three siblings. Fun fact: She took a Chicanas and Feminism course with Eva Longoria while studying for her master’s in mass communication at California State University, Northridge. Follow her on Twitter @virginiaisaad