Big U.S. tech companies have not hired many Black employees, especially in technical and leadership roles.
Spurred by nationwide protests and calls to end systemic racism after the police killing of George Floyd, Google, Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc. recently vowed to increase the diversity of their workforce. If this sounds depressingly familiar, that’s because it is. The industry has been making similar pledges for years, with little progress.
The world’s most valuable tech companies are still predominantly white and male, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of diversity reports published by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. Photos of Black workers feature prominently in these reports but remain mostly absent from management ranks and are underrepresented in technical roles. Photos of leadership ranks pictured here are based on named executive officers listed in the companies’ latest annual proxy statements.
If tech companies really want to increase representation, they must do more, Black employees and corporate diversity experts say. That means hiring diverse talent into higher levels of management and creating a workplace that is inclusive enough to retain people of color after they join, said Tina Shah Paikeday, an executive at consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates who helps companies hire executives to run diversity and inclusion programs.
“Tech values the notion that innovation comes from a diverse perspective, but it’s been more of an academic thought,” she said.
There’s a lot of room at the top for Black people. Most companies executive ranks are less than 3% Black.
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook launched a $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative earlier this month. “To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored,” Cook wrote in a letter to employees.
The percentage of Black employees in technical roles at Apple in the U.S. remained unchanged in 2018 from 2014 at 6%, according to the company’s most recent diversity report. Apple is the only tech company among the big five not to release 2019 diversity figures yet. Half of Apple’s overall U.S. workforce was White, while Asian and Hispanic employees made up 23% and 14% of total employees, respectively. Black workers were 9% of the total. Last week, Apple’s chief of diversity and inclusion, Christie Smith, left the company.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said last week that the company will improve Black representation at senior levels and increase leadership representation of all underrepresented groups by 30% by 2025. He committed to post all jobs externally and ramp up investment in cities outside the Bay Area, while creating a talent liaison within each product and functional area to retain workers from underrepresented groups.
Just 2.4% of tech employees at the company were Black in the U.S., according to Google’s latest data, up from 1.5% six years earlier. Statistics on the company’s total workforce paint a similar picture. David Drummond, a veteran Black executive, retired from Google parent Alphabet Inc. earlier this year.
Google is becoming less white but not more Black. Hiring of Black people rose to 5.5% of total but other groups grew much faster.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to Instagram this month to defend Amazon’s decision to place a Black Lives Matter banner on the company’s homepage. He also pledged $10 million for racial and social justice organizations. “We stand in solidarity with our Black employees, customers, and partners, and are committed to helping build a country and a world where everyone can live with dignity and free from fear,” the e-commerce company said in a blog post.
Just 8% of Amazon’s U.S. managers were Black last year, while 59% were White, according to the company. Unlike its big tech rivals, Amazon includes all managers in its leadership diversity data.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would give $10 million to social justice organizations in a June 1 post. “The violence Black people in America live with today is part of a long history of racism and injustice,” he said. “I know that $10 million can’t fix this. It needs sustained, long term effort.” Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg also said the company would pledge $200 million for Black-owned businesses and committed to have 30% more Black people in Facebook leadership positions by 2025.
Just 1.5% of Facebook employees in technical roles in the U.S. were Black in 2019, up from 1% in 2014, according to the social media company’s diversity report. Among senior leadership, 3.1% is Black.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pledged to double the number of Black employees in senior and leadership positions by 2025, in an email sent to employees Tuesday and posted publicly. He also said the company will add $150 million to its diversity and inclusion investment. “Seeing injustice in the world calls us all to take action, as individuals and as a company,” he said in an earlier blog post. “We cannot episodically wake up when a new tragedy occurs. A systemic problem requires a holistic response.”
According to Microsoft’s 2019 diversity report, 3.3% of its tech employees were Black in the U.S., up from 2.4% in 2016. More than 70% of its overall workforce was male, down slightly from 2016.
Not even a percentage point of progress. Roughly 3% of executives and tech roles at Microsoft were held by Black employees last year, virtually unchnged from 2016.
Prominent tech companies have made little progress in their stated goal of hiring more minorities.
Six years after their first diversity reports, Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter have seen low single-digit increases in their percentage of Black employees, according to a CNBC analysis of the annual disclosures. Amazon shows a higher increase, but those numbers include warehouse and delivery workers.
“Every year they put out the same diversity report, check the box, then send out the same report the next year,” said Freada Kapor Klein, founding partner at Kapor Capital. “We’re at a crucial crossroads — I don’t think what tech companies have done to date is anywhere near enough.”
In 2014, tech companies acknowledged the gap and made it a public goal to increase diversity in their workforces. In recent weeks, major tech CEOs renewed vows to tackle inequality after public outrage over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. Protests have erupted in cities across the U.S. in the weeks since.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post that the company “needs to do more to support equality and safety for the Black community through our platforms,” pledging to donate $10 million. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey pledged $3 million to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, and Amazon promised $10 million to support social justice and Black communities. Google pledged $12 million to civil rights groups, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised the company would make donations to several groups such as the Equal Justice Initiative and match employee donations, while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pledged $1.5 million to several social justice organizations, adding the company will be using its platform to “amplify” the voices of its Black workers.
Kapor Klein, also a founding team member at Project Include, pointed to prior levels of spending at tech companies for diversity and inclusion, and statements by executives. Those “ring hollow,” she said, until bigger changes show up in the diversity data.
‘Metrics, but no consequences’
In the past six years, these companies have made improvements but are nowhere near parity.
Women have moved up as a higher fraction of the workforce. Facebook’s technical workforce, for example, jumped from 15% female when the report began in 2014 to 23% at the beginning of 2019. Google has made similar progress.
But for Black employees, Facebook showed the smallest increase — going from 3% to 3.8% of workers in the past five years. Twitter moved from roughly 2% Black employees in its workforce in 2014, to 6% as of the start of 2019. Amazon reported an 11 percentage point jump, with a workforce that was 26.5% Black as of the start of 2019. However, the majority of its employees work in Amazon distribution centers, making it difficult to compare with its tech peers.
Bari Williams, head of legal at start-up Human Interest and former lead senior counsel at Facebook, said the annual reports are a key step in transparency. But tech giants’ data-centric approach and competitiveness haven’t been effective when it comes to diversity.
“These companies are data-driven, but if people are not hitting their diversity metrics, where’s the downside?” Williams said. “You have metrics, but no consequences.”
Among leadership and technical roles like coders and engineers, the diversity numbers are even lower. Apple’s workforce is 9% Black — but that drops to 3% when looking at leadership roles. Its share of Black technical workers remained flat at 6% from the end of 2013 through the end of 2017, the last year Apple published diversity data.
“One flaw is not thinking about it from the outset of the company formation, that’s having ripple effects that are now being seen several years later,” said Richard Kerby, general partner at Equal Ventures. “You’re not seeing movement because it’s not being tracked or monitored — there’s no incentive alignment for someone to improve on the numbers.”
While hiring remains an area of focus for inclusion, Margaret Neale, Stanford University professor emerita in organizational behavior, said it’s just as often an issue of retention. Finding a mentor or a sponsor within a company can be difficult. Without one, it can be nearly impossible to ascend to a leadership role.
“We see the same kind of diversity reports from a variety of different tech companies, what you see very clearly is that there’s very little change,” she said. “There continues to be hiring, but there’s not stickiness to those hires. There’s a substantial shedding of folks of color at much higher proportions given the total numbers that exist.”
In response to CNBC’s requests for comment, the tech companies pointed to incremental progress. Last year, Google showed its largest increase recorded in hiring Black tech employees in the U.S. At Apple, 53% of new hires in the U.S. are from historically underrepresented groups in tech.
Despite the single-digit improvements, critics still applaud effort to publish these reports out, pointing to industries like Wall Street that don’t publish diversity data on an annual basis.
Kapor Klein said it continues to be an uphill battle to “retrofit diversity into a big company.” Thanks to their growth in the past two decades, tech giants now have what she called a “denominator problem” of changing a 118,000 person workforce in the case of Alphabet.
“Moving the needle by 10% is a lot, that means a lot of employees have to be hired or a lot have to leave, and it still doesn’t change the culture,” she said. “Companies have a much harder task and it requires an absolute fundamental commitment to change.”