Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Google's diversity: a leadership mea culpa

By Oregon Department of Transportation (Diversity Uploaded
by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Wow. Say what you will about Google's massive Internet presence, but when they mess up, they're not shy about it.

A few days ago, Google admitted its workforce was overwhelmingly white. And male. They shared some metrics here. This is unusually forthright, because there's no major litigation facing Google regarding workforce inequities. Instead, they got out in front of their problem, defusing potential negative publicity before criticism or litigation arose.

But dig deeper and you find their statistics are somewhat worse when it comes to the diversity of the company's leadership.

Google's overall workforce is:
  • 30 percent female, 70 percent male. 
  • 61 percent white, 
  • 30 percent Asian, 
  • 2 percent African American, and 
  • 3 percent Hispanic.
Google's leadership demographics are less forgiving: 
  • 21 percent female, 79 percent male. 
  • 72 percent white, 
  • 23 percent Asian, 
  • 2 percent black, 
  • 1 percent Hispanic.

To Google's credit, it says: We’re not where we want to be when it comes to diversity. And it is hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts. All of our efforts, including going public with these numbers, are designed to help us recruit and develop the world’s most talented and diverse people.

And Google adds there's a lack of African American and Hispanic computer science majors in colleges from which to recruit. This is likely true, although for every computer science major who lands a job in information technology, you'll find IT teammates who hold degrees in criminal justice, nursing, physics, finance, and other non-computer majors. They learned computer science on the job.

(I recently authored a book on IT degrees for high school students, and encountered many IT people whose backgrounds didn't include a computer science degree.)

The real issue is leadership in diversity, however. Google doesn't have enough diverse leaders, and they're not alone. In 2013, there were six black CEOs in the Fortune 500; only one was female. There were eight Latino CEOs in the Fortune 500, and 23 women CEOs. (One of them, Marissa Meyer of Yahoo, is a Google alumna). Read more at DiversityInc.

Diverse leaders -- whether CEOs, presidents, or executive vice presidents -- aren't always attuned to hiring or advancing women and people of color. I've worked with white male CEOs who did more to champion workplace diversity than a minority CEO who followed. But diverse executives often bring a multicultural perspective to decisions that help grow their businesses. Many recognize that creating a more-diverse workforce can give them an edge in innovating new products and services,multicultural marketing, or competing in new market segments or global regions. 

Google has succeeded by creating online services we now depend on, offering them at no cost because they give Google information about our online behavior. So perhaps it hasn't needed more diversity, until now, as it faces more competition in North America and abroad.

Now, other competitors are gaining strength, and Google realizes it needs diverse talent to maintain its competitive edge. The steps they take going forward will speak to how well its leadership moves to correct its imbalanced workforce.