Blacks and Latinos make up more than 30 percent of the US population — but not at Google. At the tech giant’s Mountain View headquarters, and at company offices across the country, they total about 5 percent of the workforce.
And Google says it doesn’t like that.
In an unprecedented move, the corporation chose to go public with its underwhelming diversity stats, revealing that of its 26,600 US employees, only two percent are black and three percent Latino. And that of its 44,000 global employees, only 30 percent are women.
To put that in perspective, Googlers are only slightly more diverse than House Republicans.
'It’s time to be candid about the issues.'
“We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues,” Laszlo Bock, Google's senior vice president of "people operations," wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. “Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly.”
That sounds sensible.
Of course, admitting your diversity stats are not pretty is not the same thing as doing something about it.
"It is good that Google admits they have a problem and discusses it publicly, but they have, and have always had, the capacity to improve their hiring practices," Sarah Kendzior, a writer who studies politics and media, told VICE News. "It’s not like workplace diversity is a new issue, or discrimination against women and minorities has not been widely discussed in the tech industry. They could, you know, google that."
To its credit, Google took a first step.
Here’s an interesting catch though: The media has been all too eager to "discuss" Google’s "white man” problem — with headlines like "Google admits it hires too many white dudes," "Google workforce is too white and male, says HR boss, looking in mirror" and "Want a job at Google? You better be a white man."
But it hasn’t been too introspective about it.
Because if Silicon Valley is notoriously white, male, and “fratty,” so is journalism.
'Are we really still talking about this?'
Studies on the media's own "white man" problem are regularly released — and depressingly, the content hardly ever changes.
In fact, in the past two decades there has been almost no change in the percentage of minorities in newsrooms, according to a 2013 survey by the American Society of News Editors.
Reflecting on the fatigue around the issue — and the lack of progress — the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan recently asked, in a column on the dearth of women in media, “Are we really still talking about this?”
“After three decades in journalism, I find it hard to believe that — while things have changed radically in some ways — there’s still such a gender imbalance,” she wrote. And substituting race for gender would have hardly gotten her a more satisfying result.
'For all the talk, the media seem to find the whiteness pretty bearable.'
If anything, the recent firestorm over the New York Times’ own axing of its first female editor — to be succeeded by its first black one — only resurfaced a debate that’s regularly reignited and just as regularly abandoned — but seemingly never tackled head on.
"For all the talk, the media seem to find the whiteness pretty bearable. Like Google, they try to compensate for their lack of actual diversity by discussing diversity’s importance," Kendzior said — citing Vox as an example, which she said ran a slew of articles on racism since their hiring practices fell under scrutiny. "But this does nothing to solve the problem. What solves the problem is hiring people and paying them."
And even if, as Google suggests, being candid about the issue is a start, most media companies are not.
I reached out to a dozen news organizations and media companies to ask whether they'd go public with their own diversity stats. Among those who replied, the New York Times Company, NewsCorp, and VICE Media all declined to release theirs.
As private companies, they don't have to. But that, of course, doesn’t mean we can’t tell — and not just by taking a quick look around the office.
'In media, in particular, lack of diversity amounts to a lack of imagination.'
A study by the Women’s Media Center tallied up a bunch of stories — concluding that at the top 10 papers in the country, 63 percent of bylines go to men (and 69 percent of them at the Times), while male opinion writers at the major outlets outnumber women one to four.
Racial diversity fares no better: A survey by the American Prospect that polled publications widely billing themselves as “liberal” or “progressive” found that their editorial staffs barely break the 10 percent diversity barrier.
There’s plenty of evidence for why a lack of diversity is bad for companies. But in media, in particular, a lack of diversity amounts to a lack of “imagination,” Gabriel Arana, the Prospect’s “only member of an ethnic minority,” wrote in a blog post accompanying the stats.
'We are missing a lot of stories.'
“When you're in the business of telling stories, lacking diversity means you're limited in the sorts of stories you can tell — or even think of telling,” he said.
"When media jobs are dominated by people from a certain race, gender, and class, we get a narrow perspective — not only on race itself, but on all political, social, and economic issues," Kendzior agreed. "Perspective is often shaped by who you know, where you live, your willingness to talk to people from different backgrounds, and the willingness of people from different backgrounds to talk to you. We are missing a lot of stories."
And the argument of many employers — that the "talent pool" is just too white — is a cop-out.
"We already have talented writers of color telling these stories," Kendzior added, "but they are mostly doing it on blogs or Twitter and not getting the pay, opportunities, or respect afforded their white contemporaries."
So while the media rushes to report on Google’s pretty awful diversity record, it might also pick up on its recommendation: “It’s time to be candid about this.”
Google’s data was compiled as part of a report major US employers must file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Bock said the company has been investing in efforts to diversify the tech industry. He also put the problem in context — women earn only about 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the US, and Blacks and Hispanics make up less than 10 percent of the country’s college grads.
So can Google wash its hands of its overwhelming white-maleness? No, and neither should the media.
“We’re the first to admit that Google is miles from where we want to be — and that being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution,” Bock wrote.
Google didn’t have to go public with this; they chose to.
Facebook said it might disclose its figures next, the Associated Press reported. If the exercise turns into anything more meaningful than a mea culpa, which is yet to be seen — news organizations and media companies might even want to trail in its steps.
Here’s hoping many companies will follow this trend — and that it won't just end with a public disclosure of how we could all do better.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi