Diversity efforts at Google continue to come up short

Last week Google released its annual Diversity Report which describes in some detail what percentage of the company is female or composed of a given race. What the report shows is that Google is nowhere near the representative sample of the population that appears to be the ideal. In fact, as CNN reported Friday, Google has an especially hard time holding on to black and Latino employees:

According to the report, Google’s difficulty in retaining black Google employees has offset some of its hiring gains and led to smaller increases in representation than if it had been able to keep employees already at the company.

“Attrition rates in 2017 were highest for Black Googlers followed by Latinx Googlers, and lowest for Asian Googlers,” the report said. “Black Googler attrition rates, while improving in recent years, have offset some of our hiring gains, which has led to smaller increases in representation than we would have seen otherwise.”

Google’s black and Hispanic employees make up 2.5% and 3.6% of US employees, according to the report.

The US is about 12% black and about 17% Latino. So despite Google’s efforts to combat “micro-inequities” and “unconscious bias” the company isn’t remotely close to its goal of “equity.”

The situation isn’t much better for sexual diversity than it is for racial diversity. Overall, the company is 31% female but in the tech sector (i.e. programmers) it’s just 21.4% female. That’s up slightly but it’s obviously nowhere near 50-50. James Damore, please call your office.

So what’s going on here? Well, it’s worth noting that one race is vastly overrepresented at Google compared to its share of the population at large. In 2017, Asians made up 47% of Google’s tech hires, which is slightly above white hires at 42 percent. That’s true despite the fact that Asians represent only about 5% of the US population. Asians also had the lowest attrition rate of any race. So why aren’t Asians impacted by the micro-inequities and unconscious bias at Google in the same way as blacks and Latinos? Are Asians somehow immune to the very serious problem of micro-inequites in the workplace?

I’m reminded of a story I wrote last week about admission to Harvard University. In 2013, Harvard analyzed its own admissions and found that if the school were to base admissions solely on academics, Asian Americans would represent about 40% of the incoming class (legacy admissions and ratings for personality drop this down to about 22%). But it seems that whatever is working for Asians at Google is also working for them at Harvard (or would be if Harvard would let it). Maybe, just maybe, there are some cultural differences here that are yielding results. Maybe if we spent more time looking at those cultural differences and less time worrying about micro-inequities in the workplace, Google’s workforce could be more diverse.

Finally, while Google says it takes this effort very seriously, it’s worth noting that last week the company was pressed at a shareholder’s meeting to adopt rules which would tie executive compensation to success in achieving diversity goals. Google’s management voted that down.