Opinion

Google's latest diversity numbers confirm it has “a long way to go”

6 min read

03 June 2015

The technology company is hoping its long-term strategy will pay off. Its efforts to lay out the journey publicly show Google is serious about making changes.

Google recently unveiled a new diversity policy and Real Business discussed the importance of transparency – for Google to outline its targets and specific achievements. In a move that suggests the tech company is making an effort to do so – it has provided new updates on its workforce makeup.

It said the announcement provided “a window into our efforts”, after acknowledging it was “fair to ask” whether Google had seen improvements since releasing its numbers last year.

The overall number of women in technical roles rose by one per cent, and 21 per cent of tech hires made last year were women. Google admitted it had “a long way to go” but that there had been signs of “early progress”. It went on to discuss what particular initiatives have been successful in addressing so far.

In 2010, 14 per cent of the software engineers Google hired through outreach at colleges were women. Investing $3m in Anita Borg Scholarships for women pursuing computer science degrees has had an impact, with women making up 22 per cent of this year’s engineers hired in the same way.

Google also reflected that the tech industry was improving too, by providing stats on Google I/O’s conference attendees. While eight per cent in 2013 were women, in 2014 this rose to 23 per cent.

A way to accept accountability and periodically reinforce the diversity agenda as an ongoing priority was shown in Google’s comments surrounding its black and hispanic employees. “The increase in black and hispanic Googlers outpaced Google’s hiring growth overall” it said, but they still only make up two per cent and three per cent of the company. It has said the efforts would continued to be shared externally as Google works to “build a workforce more reflective of the diversity of people we serve”.

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It’s a bold move, but one that’s quite canny in making sure those throughout the company focus on improving the demographic split as well as showing to the outside world that Google is indeed taking the matter seriously and doesn’t intend to shy away from the numbers.

Improving its black and hispanic representation is being addressed by doubling the number of universities Google recruits from, and taking steps to solidify partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

On the technical side, Google’s black and hispanic numbers grew by 39 per cent in the US – compared to 28 per cent growth overall. On the non-technical side, teams in the US grew by 17 per cent, while the black and hispanic communities rose by 38 per cent and 22 per cent respectively.

Two posts on the issue within a matter of months indicate that the tech company has this very much as a current concern, taking means to address its previous reluctance at sharing such data. Senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, said “We now realise we were wrong and that it’s time to be candid about the issues”. His point that if you’re not prepared to discuss challenges openly, then it becomes harder to address them, seems a pertinent one.

For the time being then, Google is showing that big employers need to make themselves accountable for diversity in the workplace

Apple too, has admitted not living up to its hopes for diversity in the workplace. Last year, CEO Tim Cook, said he was “not satisfied” with the numbers, but also acknowledged they weren’t new to him and “we’ve been working hard for quite some time to improve them”.

The numbers for last year had its US employees being 55 per cent white, 15 per cent Asian, 11 per cent hispanic, seven per cent black, two per cent mixed, with nine per cent not disclosing their race in the survey. This rose to 64 per cent white when it came to employees in leadership positions. The gender breakdown also needed work – the overall global split was 70 per cent male to 30 per cent female.

Apple’s hiring motto became “inclusion inspires innovation”, and it has been investing in diversity of late, aiming to get a wider range of people into tech.

While both Google and Apple have disclosed their US numbers, it would be interesting to see how their figures in other countries stack up too.