Being black in Silicon Valley

Mark S. Luckie wrote a column in USA Today about being a black employee in the tech world.


He was a Manager of Journalism and News at Twitter for three years before he left the company. In the column Mr. Luckie talks about the paltry number of black employees at Twitter and the tech world in general.

NEW YORK — My fingertips danced with delight as I frantically typed away at my computer.

“I just saw a new Black person! Does anyone know who it is?”

I circulated the email to the “Blackbirds,” Twitter’s internal group for Black employees. In my three years as Manager of Journalism and News at the company, I was always thrilled whenever a new hire of color joined our ranks. By the end of the day, the Blackbirds were buzzing amongst ourselves. We lavished the new employee with our customary welcome to Twitter’s vibrant workplace.

Weeks after our new colleague’s induction, I had to break the news to the group that I would soon leave the company I loved. Witnessing firsthand the lack of faces of color instilled in me the desire to apply my technology skills toward the visibility of Blacks in media.

At Twitter, an estimated two percent of employees are Black, a number that is less than shocking to those who work inside its many offices. A cursory look around the company’s San Francisco headquarters would reveal a sea of mostly White and Asian faces.

Facebook and Google’s self-reported numbers reflect much of the same. Both employ a few hundred Black workers among tens of thousands. The widespread underrepresentation of faces of color in tech is already alarming. However, the situation is more dire than raw numbers project. A deeper census would show that few of those accounted for occupy leadership or engineering positions compared to their fairer-skinned counterparts.

He also talks about how folks get hired by those companies.

The most impactful detriment to diversity in Silicon Valley is the idea of “culture fit.” Employees are actively encouraged to suggest friends or former colleagues for open roles. The premise is if the employee and the candidate have a congenial relationship outside of the company, the new recruit is more likely to work well with other staffers. The recommended candidates are given preference or special attention during the recruiting process. It should come as no surprise then that there aren’t more applicants of color to select from.

White Americans have 91 times as many white friends as Black friends, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Three-quarters of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. If current employees don’t know any people of color then they have none to recommend.

Additionally, candidates are pooled from the same universities. The Stanfords and Berkeleys of the world, which themselves suffer from low numbers of enrolled students of color, are considered the gateway to top talent.

Check out USA Today to read the entire column.  Also check out Tech jobs: Minorities have degrees but don’t get hired.

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