(This week’s post is fairly US-centric, but the principles do apply in other countries. As usual, these viewpoints are my own and don’t reflect those of my employer.)
The protests following the murder of George Floyd aren’t just about him. They’re a response to an unjust system that perpetuates violence against Black people. There’s a whole system of injustices, some small and some big, that forms a cycle that’s hard to escape.
I want to talk about some of these biased systems we have in tech hiring, and what we can do to break the cycle.
What’s the big deal?
If you’re a metrics person, the biggest indictment of racial inequality in tech is the under-representation of Black engineers:
Google doesn’t seem to break down their statistics by technical and non-technical roles, but they have a “representation” statistic accounting for both hiring and attrition. Google has 3.7% Black representation.
Facebook has 1.5% Black representation in US technical roles.
LinkedIn has 1.2% Black representation in US technical roles.
Microsoft as a whole has 3.3% Black representation in US technical roles. On the other hand, Microsoft has 18.6% Black representation in retail roles!
Tech is touted as an equalizer, where someone without a college degree and a whole lot of determination can earn above-average amounts of money. This is, of course, the primary value proposition of a bootcamp. And with the compensation in tech being so high, those who make it into tech ensure a safety net for themselves and the next generation. Money is power.
The statistics show Black engineers aren’t seeing this benefit.
Where does the problem come from?
I’ve seen arguments about not enough Black engineers applying to jobs, not enough qualified Black engineers in the pipeline, an overwhelming number of those groups in the pipeline, etc. But as Carlos Barksdale pointed out in a previous post, “It’s Not Hard to Hire Black People.”
The problem, as we’ve seen time and time again, is systemic:
Tech companies aren’t spending enough time going to places where Black engineers are. How many companies specifically recruite at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)?
The lack Black engineers perpetuates itself. Without a good support system, those who are hired feel out of place. This leads to attrition.
And of course, there are issues outside of tech that causes this imbalance in the first place. Racial segregation of neighborhoods leads to a lack of inter-generation wealth, and discriminatory law enforcement leads to road blocks to escaping an unjust system.
What can I do?
Of course companies need to work on hiring Black engineers. But every individual within the company has a responsibility. Today, in light of the murder of the George Floyd, the following response from those who refuse to take more of the same, and the resulting solidarity we’ve seen, I’m taking a stronger stance than before: it is your responsibility to speak up.
Outside of tech, the article “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” captures the sentiment perfectly. First, regardless of who you are, you need to act. These acts can be small, like supporting Black businesses and educating yourself on the topic, or large, like political action. And you need to take that action no matter the racial make-up of your community. The goal is to collectively attack the system that makes violence against Black people possible.
In the same way, it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White or otherwise, but you need to move your company to hire under-represented groups. As the above article suggests:
Many companies have recruiting channels that are predominantly white. Work with your HR department to recruit Americans who are descendants of enslaved Africans. Recruiting from HBCUs is a good start. Work to put descendants of enslaved Africans already hired under supportive managers.
Additionally, join your company’s support group for Black employees, or help the Black employees at your company start one. Push for diverse hiring channels and fairer evaluation criteria. Work with local schools to encourage Black children to consider tech as a career choice. Given the systemic racial discrimination in the justice system, push for hiring those with criminal records who have paid their dues to society.
But whatever you do, don’t stay silent. Together we can break the cycle.
(Yes, much of this applies to other under-represented minorities. But the current events are about Black Lives, so I’m keeping the discussion there.)