28 March 2012

Is The Tech Industry Racist?

So I'm glancing through My e-mail and I notice one from Jen Rhee.

Don't know who that is. Clicked it open.

Hi Gil,


While searching for resources about tech and social media, I came across your site and saw that you had talked about the current digital divide. I wanted to reach out with a graphic about the absence of minorities in today's booming tech industry, which I think would be a great fit for your site. Would you be interested in taking a look?


Thanks in advance,


Jen

Quick Google search satisfied My low-key "Is this spam?" filter. But I took an unconscionably long time to respond to her. Happily, she replied:

Hi Gil,


Thanks for getting back to me. The graphic I was referring to lives here: http://www.onlineitdegree.net/is-tech-racist/


I think your readers will enjoy it, so feel free to share it and let me know if you do! I’d love to get your thoughts as well.


Thanks again,


Jen


The infographic is very large, but here are two facts that are quite stunning:

Population of the U.S of part of A.: Black, 12.8%; Hispanic, 15.4%, Other, 71.8%
Silicon Valley Employment Population: Black, 1.5%; Hispanic, 4.7%, Other, 93.8%

Internet Company Founders, Nationwide: White: 87%; Asian: 12%; Black: 1%


And lest you look at these numbers and think they are merely part of the past, the infographic also reveals that although employment in the 10 largest companies of the tech industry has risen 16%, the number of Hispanics employed in those companies has dropped 11% and the number of Blacks has dropped 16%.


Racist?

Let's start with labeling. In the Silicon Valley Employment Population stat, Asians are classified as "Other," and yet they are 12% of the Internet company founders. By that measure, 99% of all Internet companies are founded by "Whites/Asians" and only 1% by Blacks. And that 99% would ostensibly include Hispanics, lumped with Whites out of carelessness, bias, negligence or because their numbers are too small to separate (in which case they should have been listed to contrast with the size of the Hispanic population.)

In short: the way the data is presented obscures or obfuscates the conclusions...but only to a certain extent. When 28.2% of a nation's population equals barely 6.2% of a major industry's workforce and barely more than 1% of its entrepreneurial founders, there has got to be more than an "oops factor" involved.

So what could they be?

1) Education: The numbers for Hispanics and Blacks are far below Whites and Asians when it comes to college degrees, even in technology-related fields. They have been for a long time.

But isn't Silicon Valley the proud poster child of the college dropout who built a company and changed the world? In fact, isn't the image of the industry one that often eschews "book learning" or "theory" in favor of "just doing it"? Since when did "doing it" have a skin color?


2) Economics: The Silicon Valley scene is rife with venture capital money, in the same way some parts of Colombia are built on cocaine. From a 2011 survey on venture capitalists comes this conclusion: "When looking at race, 86% of investors identify themselves as Caucasian, 10% as Asian and 1% as African American." [Jenius Note: Apparently 4% don't care what they are or don't want to be scrutinized too closely.]

Let Me save you the trouble of scrolling back up for the comparison:

Venture Capital Racial breakdown: White, 86%; Asian, 10%; Black, 1%.

Internet Company Founders, Nationwide: White: 87%; Asian: 12%; Black: 1%


See that? You could make a case that Whites fund Whites, Asians fund Asians (and a little more beyond that) and Blacks fund Blacks, only that Whites and Asians (but especially Whites) seem to have way more money than Blacks.

And if that has been going on for a long time--and it has, because venture capital is about investing in people more than technology or business models--then the more Whites fund Whites, the more Whites there are to fund Whites.

But. If Whites-only VC funds only funded White start-ups, We'd have a clear case of racism. I don't know if We do. If Asians-only VCs only funded Asian start-ups or Blacks-only VCs funded only Black start-ups, would it be racist of them? Couldn't they state that their investments are made to "Offset the limited opportunity (translation: racist policies) offered by Whites-only VC firms"? And would that make it right? [For the record: Exclusion of others because of skin color is racism, no matter who does it to whom. Period.]

And yet, successful VC firms, like most companies, thrive on having a variety of peoples with a variety of skills and outlooks. Racism that seeks to limit the potential of a team, group or company to "Only those that look like Me" run the very real risk of getting their asses handed back to them waxed and pounded flat by companies who know that talent, skill and energy come in all skin colors.

However, that leads to a third possible factor:

3) Social inequality: Not that Asians, Hispanics or Blacks are less capable, only that their opportunity set is smaller because society has barriers for them that don't exist for Whites.* Asians are expected to do well in school, particularly math and technology. Given their relatively small percentage of the population (4.4%), they account for a significant amount of college degrees (2008-2009): Bachelor's: 7%; Master's: 6.1%; Doctoral, 5.7%, and an impressive 10.4% of First Professional degrees. In every case, they exceed their population percentage, whereas Hispanics and Blacks are below their population percentage at every degree level.

Is that racist? I don't think so; it's merely a series of factual data points. But is the opportunity set the same? Here's a litmus test: Jeremy Lin. Apple Store Genius you want fixing your MacBook Pro or last man chosen at a pick-up basketball game...and only because he brought the ball? Most likely both, though he's really a key component of the Knicks in their run to the playoffs, a major story because he is Asian-American. And why is that? Because Asians are not really supposed to be major basketball stars, or athletes in general. Mathletes, sure. Feisty-gutsy point guards with skillz? Not so much.

The opportunity set, the potential pathways to growth in a society, are not truly equal. Never have been, anywhere. In the U.S. of part of A., Whites have advantages over Non-Whites, mainly in that they go to jail far less often though Whites commit as many crimes as Non-Whites. Education is highly-praised and touted by all races, but Asians are perceived to be tigerish about it, while Blacks and Hispanics are perceived to be trapped by a system and Whites are perceived to be gliding through it in pursuit of high grades that don't entail effort.

Those are perceptions. The realities are that Whites have more college degrees, more money and more access to both than Asians, Blacks and Hispanics. What the IT industry reflects in Silicon Valley is most likely a snapshot of nearly all other "knowledge economy" industries in the nation. I dare say that others are worse; Wall Street, for example. And beyond private enterprise, the disparity is similar, as a glance at the justice system or Homeland Security will reveal.

What the infographic doesn't touch is the male/female breakdown of Silicon Valley, the Top 10 tech companies and VC firms with their investments. Racism and sexism often go hand -in-hand, so maybe that data would help clear up the picture, though clarity may have already been achieved.

Again, does all of the above mean that the IT industry is racist? Yes, it does. There is definitely a racial component to the huge disparities, a consciously chosen set of decisions that produced these results. Just like the conscious decisions of a nation have led to the following results, a horrendously damning indictment of the entire society Silicon Valley is ultimately part of:


Notice how in this "industry," Hispanics and Blacks have truly higher percentages than Whites...which is how Whites want it.

Racist? From Silicon Valley to Wall Street and everywhere in between in this once-great "Land of the Free"?

Definitely racist.


The Jenius Has Spoken.


* If you don't think there are barriers for Non-Whites in the U.S. of part of A., you have obviously never heard of Arizona, Alabama or Georgia, don't understand the true target of "the Drug War" (hint: it has NOTHING to do with any drug) and are completely delusional. Which means you vote Republican. But I repeat Myself.

5 comments:

Tanke said...

Gil,

I think you are painting the right picture but your interpretation is slightly biased.

There are many reasons "whites" have more opportunities than latinos/blacks and a major one is they are not immigrants. Wealth and opportunities are often generated in time, on average white families have been in the US longer while immigrant families, specially latinos, are starting over in the US. It wont be an even field as you don't have the contacts or know the lay of the land.

The immigrants that get ahead quickly are those who are very educated, highly intelligent or posses special skills. Hence, why Asians tend to perform better.

BC's and tech industry in general is a very risky and highly competitive field.

Location is also a factor, immigrants on the west coast (where most VCs and tech firms are) are typically from Mexico and Central America, poor countries with poor education. You will find that immigrants from the top universities in Mexico tend to do well in the US, however there are very few of those.

The Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans Argentinians, Chileans, etc... tend to emigrate to the East coast and other parts of the US. This doesn't explain the disparity in other industries but it is a valid factor for the VC/Tech industry.

Is there some racism? yes, but its more circumstantial than you implied it is.
The fact is there just aren't that many latino engineers in the west coast while most asian immigrants tend to be engineers.

Gil C. Schmidt said...

Tanke, I think you're right all on counts. I do show a bias, based on what information I have (the infographic) and My interpretation of it (based on how the data was presented). The infographic states its case and I launched into Mine.

Using Silicon Valley to represent the entire IT industry is like using Wall Street to represent the entire financial industry (which I did, deliberately.) Each shows a racial trend that defines bias and whether the trend is racist or not is subject to interpretation. But there is also a bias in what data is used to present an argument, the "Lies, damn lies and statistics" corollary. Let Me choose My data and I'll prove Hitler was the best political leader Germany ever had--and that argument has already been made by highly-respected historians in that way.

Is there racism in the U.S. of part of A.? Definitely. It isn't the only country that has it, but it might be the most hypocritical and law-breaking about it, simply because it has tried to be legally color-blind. I biased My argument to show that the nation itself was racist by its very judicial/penal system, with supporting links to the broader argument that such a trend is actual POLICY, i.e., "the Drug War."

Did I go far afield? Yes, but My knowledge of the IT industry is virtually nil and the question of racism, I felt, could not be contained to one industry and the slant one infographic chose to portray. To tackle the subject would require a much-greater depth and breadth than what I can bring to the subject, even as a Jenius.

For that I would highly recommend--very highly recommend--"The New Jim Crow," by Michelle Alexander. It is a daunting, sobering and meticulous look into the often-repulsive systems that hamstring Blacks and Hispanics (mainly men) to a horrible degree.

Just one fact, to close: In Chicago, a little over 80% of the Black men have a criminal record, the vast majority for drug possession. And yet, drug use and sales in Chicago and the nation (by percentage of population) are equally-distributed amongst Whites and Blacks, but Whites are as much as 19 TIMES LESS likely to be targeted by police and 9 TIMES LESS likely to serve jail time for a drug offense of ANY kind.

Same percentages, let Me repeat, SAME percentages of potential and actual lawbreaking, but one racial group gets hammered constantly while the other skates along. And that is--without a doubt--racist.

Tanke said...

That Gil, I can agree with.
Let me add the book to the queue (oh god, its long).

I feel racism is a repercussion of politics and lack of education, people fear those who are different than they are.

Even among latinos Puerto Ricans discriminate against Dominicans and Dominicans discriminate against Haitians. Lets not even get started on south/central america.

It will take a long time for this to change. But atleast we have it better than the europeans...

Prometeo said...

Reading this post reminds me of another area where you don't see many blacks or other minorities having a leading role, NASCAR:

Zero black drivers doesn't mean progress is lacking http://www.nascar.com/2008/news/opinion/02/04/bkimm.bhm.progress/

And there's another sport where diversity is lacking, hockey.

I guess that whites in the US are trying to maintain a grip on those last areas where they can to show that they still have control and power but they are becoming a minority:

http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/06/white-children-in-the-minority-in-10-states/

And the trend will continue for years to come.

Anonymous said...

I agree. As an African American woman in IT, I have experienced the backlash, backstabbing, and isolation of this industry. Even though I have worked hard to obtain my Masters in IT, I still experience racism while seeking employment.