Saturday, October 10, 2015

Of Hats, rabbits, pipelines, and diversity

Last update: Wednesday 10/13/15
Increasing the diversity of the employment base in information technology, a/k/a "Diversity in Tech", has been given a high profile in Silicon Valley and other centers of this segment of the U.S. economy ever since Dr. Jesse Jackson, Jr., succeeded in persuading Silicon Valley's corporate elites to finally disclose data about the demographics of their staffs in 2014. No one was surprised by their disclosures: more than 70 percent male, more than 85 percent Whites and Asians, and less than 15 percent Blacks and Latinos.

The good news is that most of the Silicon Valley elite accompanied their disappointing results with fervent promises to hire more women, Blacks, and Latinos. But here's the bad news: the Silicon elites accompanied their apologies with self-absolutions, i.e., with get-out-of-hell-free cards, "Bless me father, but I did not sin." 

It wasn't their fault because the underlying reason why there are so few women, Blacks, and Latinos on their staffs is the low levels of qualified minority candidates in the "pipeline" ... Yes, they really trotted out that oldie from the Sixties, "We would hire more minorities, if there were more qualified minority candidates." I'm old enough to remember when that clunker became a short-lived hit on the corporate charts; on the other hand, I can also recall that it was quickly discredited. When corporations whined that they couldn't find qualified applicants, they were told to look harder ... so the best corporations, like IBM, did look harder, and they did find qualified Black applicants (like me) ... and the best are still looking and still finding.

Nevertheless, I have to give the Silicon Valley crowd credit for a couple of new twists, classic bits of magic show misdirection. First, they redefined all information technology as "software" ... then when they were sure nobody was looking, they implied that all of their software positions were occupied by Computer Science graduates from the best universities in the country ... Finally they concluded their dollar store magic acts by trotting out statistics that showed how few women, Blacks, and Latinos were enrolled in Computer Science degree programs at the best universities in the country. Wow!!! Empty hats, but a lot of little rabbits hopping all over the place ... :-)

Dear readers, please tell me that I wasn't the only one who noticed that none of the so-called diversity reports presented tables of data that documented (a) their total employees, (b) their total employees employed in technical positions, (c) stipulations that all technical positions were in software development, (d) tables showing that the overwhelming majority, i.e., at least 90 percent, of their American software developers received degrees in Computer Science from the nation's top universities and that their H1B visa Asian developers received Computer Science degrees from universities in India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea that are comparable to Harvard and Stanford.

Of course you noticed, and like me you've been waiting for other shoes to drop, i.e, appendices that presented credible data to document the dubious premises of the diversity reports. But until such data is presented, we have to infer that no data means no hats, no rabbits, no pipelines. Just a lot of cheap tricks.

Let us not be fooled by misdirection. This issue today is no more about pipelines than it was back in the Sixties. It's about power. That's the way it was then, and that's the way it remains.

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