Tech companies may spout diversity goals, but it’s just talk, according to Frank Slootman, CEO of cloud computing data warehousing company Snowflake. Behind closed doors, this tech company CEO said Silicon Valley bigwigs aren’t really checking to increase the number of Black or other non-white employees.
Diversity is, at best, a secondary goal. It shouldn’t “override” merit in hiring decisions, Slootman said during an interview with Bloomberg Television.
“We’re actually highly sympathetic to diversity but we just don’t want that to override merit,” said the CEO of the Bozeman, Montana-based company. “If I start doing that, I start compromising the company’s mission literally,” he said. However, he added that his company does other things to push diversity such as working with universities to create a talent pipeline.
Other tech CEOs believe the same — just in private, Slootman said. “I’ll tell you from my own experience talking with many CEOs…privately we are of the same mind but publicly they find it difficult to be that way.”
He continued, “We’re CEOs, we run companies, we have to produce results for our employees and our partners and our investors and our customers. We can’t get distracted in that mission. When you do, you might as well hang it up and let somebody else do it.”
Twitter had some thoughts on Slottman’s revelation.
New York Times political analyst Astead Wesley tweeted how unsurprised he was: “trust me we didn’t think ceos were privately committed to diversity”.
“This is also just a false choice that echoes decades of racism,” Blue Bee @Blue_Bee_pllntr tweeted. “No one is saying diversity should ‘override merit’ – you take both into account – hire qualified, excellent and diverse (all at once) candidates”.
Some took Slootman’s mention of “merit” as a code word for “white male”.
“Standard BS,” KD @Fly_Sistah tweeted. “Diverse candidates always exceed the criteria to even get an interview. Meanwhile, unqualified white guys with no experience get the job regularly.”
It is often assumed that, merit or not, white males make better candidates. Black and female tech workers often find it difficult to fit into the white male world of Silicon Valley.
Culture fit interviews are “a minefield of bias as a person is asked to make a subjective assessment of a candidate based on their perceived understanding of the company culture,” Roisin Parkes wrote in a Medium report. “If your company’s environment consists of pool tables, nerf guns and beer fridges, it will be all too easy for your hiring managers to assume this candidate ‘will not fit in here.’”
Tech remains a white boy’s club. Women hold less than 20 percent of technical roles in technology companies. Sixty-seven percent of tech companies are made up of less than 5 percent of Black employees, Beam Jobs reported.
Black employees make up just 1.5 percent of technical roles at Facebook Inc. and 2.4 percent at Google, according to their latest diversity reports. At Apple, 6 percent of technical roles in 2018 were filled by Black people, Bloomberg reported.
The stats seem to prove Slootman’s comments to be true. Even after major tech companies vowed to put money and action behind diversity as a public way of denouncing the killing of George Floyd and to support the Black Lives Matter movement, little has changed.
It is not just Black workers who find the tech world unwelcoming. Black tech founders complain of feeling out of place and often questioned about their abilities.
Mercury News interviewed 20 Black tech leaders who reported sometimes feeling powerless and defeated by repeated “assumptions that they’re not in charge of their own companies.”
They typically face questions about their credentials and suggestions to hire a white business partner in order to make investors more comfortable. One Black tech founder said he carries around a notebook decorated with the logo of his alma mater, Stanford University, to fit in.
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