Google says it will focus diversity efforts on black, Hispanic women


SAN FRANCISCO — Google is struggling to hire and retain underrepresented minorities — particularly women of color — despite repeated promises over the last four years to make its workforce reflect the billions of people it serves around the globe.

Women of color remain the least represented demographic at Google and significantly trail their male counterparts of the same ethnicity in the Internet giant’s U.S. workforce, according to Google’s annual diversity report released Thursday. 

Google has made few strides in increasing the number of Blacks, Hispanics and Latinos, who are not only being hired at lower rates, but are leaving at higher rates than other employees.

Executives, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, are pledging to redouble diversity efforts and plan to make women of color an “intentional focus,” with the goal of reaching “available talent pools at all levels,” says Google’s diversity chief Danielle Brown. 

The sharpest deficits in Silicon Valley are African-American and Hispanic women, who make up 1% or fewer of workers. Women of color are represented across other industries at much higher rates consistent with their proportion of the overall U.S. population, suggesting the technology industry is having trouble reversing decades of hiring patterns.

Out of the nearly 56,000 people Google employed in the U.S. in 2017, 544 were black women, up from 348 in 2016. During that same time period, Google employed 799 black men, according to the most recent documents Google filed with the federal government. African Americans account for 2.5% of the U.S. workforce.

Hispanic women and Latinas numbered 945 in 2017, up from 566 in 2016. That’s about half the number of Hispanic men and Latinos employed by Google in the U.S. during that time frame. Google says its employees are 3.6% Hispanic and Latino. Its U.S. workforce in 2017 was 53.1% white, 36.3% Asian and 30.9% female.

While efforts to bring aboard more black and Hispanic women have foundered, Google has made strides in hiring and retaining other women and it reported gains in diversifying its leadership ranks, with the percentage of women leaders at Google reaching 25.5%, up 4.7 percentage points since 2014. 

“We have seen gains for white and Asian women so we know the work that we need to center on and focus on is around women of color,” Brown said in an interview.

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The diversity report is being released as Google faces a revolt from some employees who’ve criticized the company for failing to make diversity a priority and for failing to create a corporate culture that represents and welcomes minorities and others from underrepresented groups. 

Employees, who spoke publicly on Google’s shortcomings on diversity last week at parent company Alphabet’s shareholder meeting, told USA TODAY Google treats diversity and inclusion as an afterthought. 

Software engineer Irene Knapp addressed the meeting on behalf of a small group of employees in support of a shareholder proposal linking executive compensation to diversity goals, which was voted down. Brown says Google has no current plans to tie compensation to progress in diversity.

“It’s interesting to see Google increase transparency following advocacy by employees,” said Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, a strategy firm that consults with technology companies on diversity and inclusion. “Particularly in the tech sector, I’ve seen employee advocacy drive greater commitment even than external pressure.”

Brown, who joined a year ago, has had to weather a stormy period at Google.

She came aboard as Google was being sued by former staffers and investigated by the Labor Department for allegedly underpaying women and as it reeled from an internal memo by a former Google engineer arguing biological differences between men and women accounted for the deficit of women in technical and leadership roles.

James Damore, who was fired for advancing “harmful gender stereotypes,” said he was responding to Google’s unconscious bias training, which he claimed encouraged Google to hire for gender and race, not talent. He sued Google in January alleging the company discriminates against white men and conservatives.

His memo and subsequent lawsuit have stirred debate in Silicon Valley over efforts to address the significant shortfall of women and minorities. Nowhere is that debate more furious than inside Google itself. 

On the one hand, a former YouTube employee is suing the company alleging it uses illegal quotas to recruit women and minorities. On the other, employees who volunteer on diversity initiatives say the company has not done enough to protect them from personal attacks and harassment campaigns by their co-workers, which began after the Damore memo leaked to the public. 

Google’s senior leaders are feeling the heat. Brown says Pichai and other executives are making a fresh commitment to moving the needle on diversity and fixing the company’s culture while stepping up their focus on women of color. 

“Part of the problem I think is that not many companies have made that intentional focus on women of color. And so that is something in our new strategy that we have centered,” Brown said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a failure necessarily,” Brown said of Google’s previous efforts to recruit and retain women of color. “It’s something we understand now that we need to tackle.”

More USA TODAY coverage of inclusion and diversity in the tech industry

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