The reality of being Black in corporate America: Out of the 500 biggest companies in the U.S., less than one percent have a Black CEO.
Let’s stop for a moment to discuss the elephant in the room that’s been quietly talked about in cubicles, office cafes, and boardrooms for as long as the term Silicon Valley has existed.
With the sheer volume of highly talented and qualified employees, why aren’t there more Black senior-level executives in the heart of the tech industry?
I’ve been fortunate to work in tech for the past 25 years with some of the most successful companies in the world. Ten of those years have been at the VP or SVP level. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my journey, it’s had a number of pitfalls, unnecessarily long promotion cycles, and stress that nearly cost me my life due to a stroke.
What’s behind the racial disparity of Black executives in Silicon Valley? And what steps can be taken to address it?
Factors fueling racial disparity in tech
Despite comprising roughly 13% of the population in the US, Black Americans hold less than 1% of executive positions in Silicon Valley’s leading companies. This racial disparity can be seen across the tech industry as a whole.
The underrepresentation of African American tech executives is a multifaceted issue that must be addressed in order to achieve a more diverse and equitable tech industry.
How bad is it? Following are some stats cited in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report regarding diversity in high-tech:
- Compared to overall private industry, the high-tech sector employed a larger share of Whites (63.5% to 68.5%), Asian Americans (5.8% to 14%) and men (52% to 64%), and a smaller share of African Americans (14.4% to 7.4%), Hispanics (13.9% to 8%, and women (48% to 36%)
- Among executives, 57% of employees were white, 36% were Asian American, 1.6% were Hispanic and less than 1% were African American
- When the executive and manager job categories are combined, African American workers are less than 1% of this group at these select leading Silicon Valley firms, and Hispanic workers are 1.6%
Here are some of the reasons behind the racial disparity:
- Lack of diversity in the candidate pipeline
- Unconscious bias: Even when Black candidates are qualified and available, they may face discrimination and bias during the hiring process. Studies have shown that resumes with “African American-sounding” names are less likely to be called back for an interview, and candidates are often assumed to be less qualified than their non-minority counterparts.
- The lack of role models and mentorship also plays a role in the underrepresentation of Black executives in Silicon Valley. When African-American professionals don’t see themselves represented at the highest levels of a company, they may not see a clear path to advancement and may not have the support and guidance they need to succeed.
The Black experience in tech encompasses many difficult truths. From woeful underrepresentation to unconscious bias to outright racism, the only way to make change is to start discussing the realities honestly and openly.
Time to break the glass ceiling
Despite the increasing diversity and inclusion efforts in the tech industry, racial disparity persists and the number of Black tech executives remains low.
This lack of representation not only perpetuates the underrepresentation in leadership positions but also perpetuates the lack of diversity in the technology industry as a whole.
Moreover, the lack of diversity in leadership can lead to a lack of innovation and understanding of the needs of diverse consumers.
We can’t continue doing things the way that they have always been done yet expect a different outcome. Companies should take steps to increase diversity in the pipeline, by doing things such as investing in programs that encourage young Black students to pursue careers in tech.
Silicon Valley companies need to actively work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s the value (or damage) of the words left unsaid? Only by imagining a future that's better for all of us can we begin to build a world that's inclusive of each of us.
Working towards a more diverse tech industry
The underrepresentation of Black executives in Silicon Valley is a complex problem with no easy solution. But some companies are taking the right steps to tackle racial disparity and increase diversity at the executive level.
Here are some best practices to push the envelope forward when it comes to racial disparity within corporate structures:
- Equity in hiring practices: This includes targeted recruitment focused on middle management, senior executives, C-level, and board roles by all human resource employees and hiring managers.
- Marketing practices: Ensure representation in all marketing assets, branded material, and external websites to highlight a focus on diversity recruitment and representation.
- Inclusive mentorship: Expand recruiting internships and hiring practices to include historically African-American Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
- Educate against racism: This includes the implementation of mandatory educational programs and implicit bias training for all employees company wide.
- Community collaboration: Focus on building a consistent diverse pipeline of future leaders across internal employee resource groups (ERGs),
- Entrepreneurial investment: Invest in minority and women-owned businesses.
Changing the norm in Silicon Valley requires a multi-layered strategy that’s not viewed merely as a diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (DEI&B) program or statistic. Rather, it’s the creation of a culture that truly values and promotes diversity and inclusion.
By taking these steps, together we can work towards a more diverse and equitable tech industry.