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June 27, 2017

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Silicon Valley's lack of diversity may mean it's losing touch with the world

PALO ALTO, California--The technology industry's predominantly white and Asian male workforce is in danger of losing touch with the diverse nation — and world — that forms its customer base.

Recently released numbers from some of the largest and most powerful companies confirm what many had suspected: Opportunity here is not created equal.

Blacks and Hispanics are largely absent, and women are underrepresented in Silicon Valley — from giant companies to start-ups to venture capital firms.

The industry that bills itself as a meritocracy actually looks more like a "mirrortocracy," says longtime high-tech entrepreneur Mitch Kapor, co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

Even as companies scramble to find workers in the most competitive hiring market in recent memory, most are continuing to bring aboard people who look like they do.

And that, Kapor says, could undercut Silicon Valley, which needs the best people and ideas to create the next Facebook or Google.

Eric Kelly is president and CEO of Overland Storage in San Jose, and chairman of Canadian-based Sphere 3D. He is also one of the few black CEOs of a publicly traded technology company. He says having managers and senior executives with differing perspectives gives companies like his an edge in the marketplace.

By 2040, the U.S. will be a minority majority, with 42 percent of the country black or Hispanic.

"I bet we'll be able to do some really interesting business case studies in 10 years and see what companies did and didn't make it — and who had the most diverse teams from top to bottom," Kelly said.

With the technology sector fueling the U.S. economy, the low rate of participation in high tech also threatens to drive up the unemployment rate for blacks and Hispanics, which is already three times the national average.

Computer science jobs are the fastest growing and command the highest salaries. Yet just one in 14 technical employees in Silicon Valley is black or Hispanic.

"The numbers are not where we want them to be," said Sarah Stuart, manager of global diversity and talent inclusion at Google.

Nationally, blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. workforce and Hispanics 14 percent.

At Google, 3 percent of the staff are Hispanic and 2 percent black. At Yahoo and Facebook 4 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent black.

Venturing Outside the Comfort Zone

No one's saying this is the overt discrimination or explicit bias of the 1950s or even the 1970s. It's much more subtle and has everything to do with where you went to school, what you studied and who you roomed with, either at Stanford University or in your apartment in San Francisco's Mission District.

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