Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Silicon Valley's Search for Bright Stars and Dark Stars

Last update: Wednesday 7/1/15
Facebook, Google, and other elite tech companies in Silicon Valley (SV) just released reports that their staffing is no more diverse this year (2015) than it was last year. While some will shake their heads in disappointment, I am baffled that anyone would have expected different results, considering where and how the Valley's recruiters did their recruiting.

Indeed, I have been shaking my head throughout this past year whenever I read tweets that linked to announcements that Google and other SV operations were intensifying their recruiting at HBCUs, at minority focused incubator operations like CODE2040, and, much deeper into the pipeline, at community-based tech groups like BlackGirlsCode, YesWeCode, and Qeyno Labs. Having spent over forty years of my life as a tenured faculty member and/or senior staffer at a prominent HBCU, I am delighted that HBCUs received substantial funding and staff support from the nation's leading software houses. And as regular readers of this blog must surely know, I am a full throated supporter of community-based tech groups.

But dear friends from the Valley, your diversity numbers are terrible. Why aren't you going after the low-hanging fruit? Why are you pipelining for the long term when you should be loading your bushel baskets as fast as you can right now to meet short-term expectations? Most of you are very smart people, so I think you're failing to do what's necessary because you're doing what very smart people sometimes do when faced with problems that have obvious solutions ==> you're thinking too much.

So stop "thinking" for a while and let your common sense consider the bigger components of the Big Picture:
  • Software development and related careers in information technology are elite professions. They are not for Joe Average and Jane Average. They are for Joe Smarty-Pants and Jane Smarty-Pants. So you should be searching for the same kinds of Black applicants as your Asian and Caucasian applicants. You should be recruiting from Black America's Talented Tenth.
     
  • Where does the Talented Tenth go to college? (Pause to acknowledge the sad fact that all of the Talented Tenth still does not get the opportunity to go to college. Now moving on.) Back in the Day, as some like to say, the vast majority of the Talented Tenth went to HBCUs. But nowadays less than ten percent of all Black students attend HBCUs, and there is reason to believe that the percentage of the Talented Tenth attending HBCUs is substantially lower. 
     
  • Yes, there are truckloads of depressing data that show that America's non-HBCUs -- a/k/a PWIs, predominantly white institutions -- are doing an unforgivably bad job in providing effective opportunities in higher education for most of their Black students. But I am unaware of any data that suggests that the Talented Tenth is being underserved. 
     
  • Elite PWIs have a long history of recruiting the Talented Tenth, initiatives that began with the Ivy League in the late 19th and early 20 centuries and were greatly expanded to include just about all of the nation's other elite institutions of higher learning in the aftermath of the Civil Rights victories in the 1960s. 
     
  • Two years ago I posted a note on this blog that reported that over 60,000 Black students were enrolled in the nation's top STEM colleges and universities, the same elite colleges and universities where the upper echelons of Silicon Valley went to school. Let's call this component of the Talented Tenth the "Bright Stars". So how were the Bright Stars doing?  As interested readers will see from my report, they were graduating at the same rates as the other students at those elite institutions, and sometimes faster.
Which brings me to my recommendations:

Recommendation #1 -- Maintain your long-term commitments to grass roots community-based tech groups that can expand the pipeline of qualified Black applicants in future years because the long-run always comes sooner than we think 

Recommendation #2 -- Greatly expand your efforts to recruit Bright Stars from America's elite PWIs, i.e., from your own alma maters. 

Caveat -- Recognize that Bright Stars, like accomplished members of any elite, already have lots of attractive career options. If they don't come to work for you, they will find gratifying opportunities elsewhere. So be prepared to outbid other prospective employers for their attention and be prepared to start recruiting them at earlier stages in their academic timelines, e.g., in their Sophomore and Junior years; but also be flexible enough to approach Bright Stars who graduated within the last two or three years.

Recommendation #3 -- Continue your efforts to recruit Dark Stars from HBCUs ... but with greater awareness of the differences between Dark Stars and Bright Stars

As readers may have guessed, I define "Dark Stars" as Black students who whose brilliance is occluded by transcripts that range from mediocre to terrible, transcripts that reflect inadequate prior learning opportunities. Elite PWIs only recruit Bright Stars, i.e,. students whose transcripts glitter with straight-A's and splendid internships; elite PWIs steer clear of Dark Stars. That's why the more flexible admissions policies of HBCUs continue to enable them to enroll a disproportionate share of Black America's Dark Stars. 

Caveat -- Recognize that Dark Stars are not only more difficult to identify from their written records; they are also a small percentage of the total enrollment at most HBCUs. So be prepared to spend a lot more time in one-on-one interviews in your efforts to identify these elite non-conventional prospects ... and be prepared to reject a high percentage of applicants. Have faith that Black folk are inherently equal to Asians and Caucasians, that the Dark Stars are out there. Remember that you're still looking for Joe Smarty-pants and Jane Smarty-pants. So don't settle for mediocrity. Doing so will be a disservice to the mediocre recruits and to your corporations.

Caveat -- All HBCUs are not the same. Some enroll a much higher percentage of Dark Stars than others. 

Caveat -- Although most Bright Stars attend PWIs today, a small percentage still attend HBCUs. Whenever you find them, grab them if you can; but don't be confused by their presence. The fact that they are easily identified should not cause you to forget that most of the stars at HBCUs are Dark Stars who cannot be identified so easily. So continue to take the extra time required to identify the Dark Stars who will make outsized contributions to your corporations if you are fortunate enough to find them and hire them.

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Related notes on this blog: