The composition of the workforces at America’s leading high tech companies leaves much to be desired. This became glaringly evident after the San Jose Mercury News published an article last year that revealed just how few minorities are employed by tech companies in Silicon Valley, our country’s leading high-tech hub: African Americans and Hispanics made up a smaller share of the valley’s tech workers in 2008 than they did in 2000. Even more astonishing, many of the largest and most well-known companies have consistently refused to disclose their hiring practices or the composition of their workforce.
Silicon Valley is not alone – nationally, a mere 7.1 percent of computer and mathematics workers are African American, yet they represent 12.8 percent of the total U.S. population. Likewise, Hispanic Americans make up 15.4 percent of the U.S. population, but only 5.3 percent of computer and mathematics workers.
But it gets worse.
Not only do African Americans and Hispanics occupy lower levels of employment in the high tech sector, but they are also typically underpaid compared to their White and Asian counterparts. In fact, a 2010 report by the National Science Foundation disclosed that the full-time salary for African Americans and Hispanics with science and engineering bachelor’s degrees was 25.8 percent lower than other racial groups. By not providing competitive wages, firms create disincentives for underrepresented minorities to apply for jobs in the high tech sector. These atrocious gaps in minority high tech employment and salaries are deplorable, and we cannot ensure social equality in the digital era unless they are addressed.
Policymakers must educate large and small businesses alike about the benefits of minority employment. For instance, a diverse workforce is critical for facilitating creativity and innovation. Research has found that a diverse workforce invites a wider range of attitudes, beliefs, and ways of thinking – all of which can provide new and varied perspectives for creative tasks.
There is also an economic rationale for hiring minorities: Hiring a workforce that is representative of the consumers it serves will better position companies to develop and market their goods to these audiences. In fact, many researchers have noted that the “cultural understanding needed to market to [specific] demographic niches resides most naturally in marketers with the same cultural background.” Ultimately, companies that recruit diverse workforces have been found to have a competitive advantage over those that do not.
With minorities comprising over one-third of the U.S. population, high tech firms have both a social responsibility and a viable economic incentive for actively incorporating minority groups into their workforce. Beyond hiring initiatives, these companies must also ensure that minority workers are equally compensated. Policymakers need to support these initiatives by demanding transparent reporting of minority employment and income data, working with high tech firms to raise awareness about effective hiring practices aimed at hiring minorities, and promoting high tech entrepreneurship and small business ownership by minorities.
David Honig is MMTC’s President and Executive Director. He co-founded the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) in 1986. MMTC has represented over 70 minority, civil rights and religious national organizations in selected proceedings before the FCC, and it operates the nation’s only full service, minority owned media and telecom brokerage.