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Dan Lyons: Tech companies ‘just have to be lying’ when talking about diversity

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

For all their promises of increasing diversity in their workforce, Silicon Valley tech companies are making little meaningful progress year-to-year.  

“I don’t think they mean it,” contends Dan Lyons, a veteran journalist, longtime tech culture critic and author of “Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of the Us.” “I think if they really meant it, they would do it [make more progress]. When they really mean something, and they really make it a priority, even those big companies can turn on a dime, right?”

Veteran journalist and longtime tech culture critic Dan Lyons criticizes Silicon Valley for its lack of significant progress on the diversity front.

Cynical as Lyons seems, the veteran journalist raises an interesting point. Companies frequently develop new features or even entirely new apps in a few months: Snap (SNAP), for instance, essentially moved heaven and earth last year to turn around a radical redesign in just five months.

But when it comes to gender and racial diversity, improvement at tech companies has moved at a downright glacial pace. Many tech companies, tech giants such as Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG, GOOGL), are still heavily dominated by men. Of the big tech companies that regularly disclose their diversity numbers, Pinterest reports the largest share of female employees, accounting for 45% of its overall workforce. On the opposite end, however, female employees account for just 27% of Intel (INTC) and 26% of Microsoft’s (MSFT) total workforces — anemic statistics, no matter how you slice them. 

The numbers look even worse for some minorities like African Americans and Hispanics, who number in the single-digits in many companies. For instance, African Americans and Hispanic employees each account for less than 6% of all employees at companies including Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter (TWTR). In the case of Uber, the percentage of African Americans in its workforce actually declined from 8.8% to 8.1% year-over-year.    

Don’t blame the STEM pipeline

While tech companies frequently blame the lack of tech diversity on a STEM pipeline issue— fewer women majored in computer science in 2014 than they did in 1985 — a significant number of jobs at tech companies aren’t technical or engineering-related.

“Another stalling tactic is they say, ‘The pipeline problem, oh, we just can’t find anyone, I don’t know, nobody’s studying STEM.’ It’s like, 80% of your jobs are not STEM jobs. They’re accountants. They’re sales, marketing, customer service—just like any other company. It is really absurd. They just have to be lying. I feel to have 1% black and Latino workers overall at a company in California, you would have to actively work to have numbers that low.”

One area sorely under-discussed in the ongoing diversity conversation? Ageism. According to the job search site Indeed, 43% of 1,011 U.S. tech workers surveyed in October 2017 said they were worried about losing their job because of their age, with 18% surveyed stating they were concerned about losing their job “all the time.” That should perhaps come as no surprise given success stories in tech often highlight founders who struck success in their teens or early 20s. After all, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were 21 and 25 when they co-founded Apple, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page were 20-something Stanford University graduate students when they created Google. That makes for companies that not only skew young but tend to value youth over experience.

“The age thing is not really something they [tech companies] face,” explains Lyons, referring to annual diversity reports from companies like Uber, which cover a range of demographics save for older tech workers. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, LGBTQ, oh we’re doing great there.’ And it’s like ok, that’s cool, right? And there was no category, no statistics on older workers, which is funny. Oh, we just don’t talk about that.”

As the tech industry continues to evolve — and tech companies are taken to task more and more for issues in the workplace — talking and indeed, increased transparency, will be key.  

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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