Now, like much of Corporate America, Silicon Valley faces renewed scrutiny over how its public support for racial justice compares with its treatment of race and diversity in the workplace. Against that backdrop, tech companies are once again making a similar flurry of diversity-related announcements.
“It is tempting to say this time feels different,” said Leslie Miley, an engineering leader who has worked at tech companies including Twitter, Slack, and Google and has been outspoken about his experiences in the industry as a Black man. “People are talking about the root cause this time — structural, systemic racism,” he added. “I just don’t know if White people have the resilience to stick with it.”
Yet some workers and diversity consultants who work with tech companies wonder whether companies will rise to the occasion this time around. Many of the companies have only gotten bigger in recent years, making it even harder to course correct without taking drastic measures.
“The instinct of a lot of folks in Silicon Valley is going to be to tinker around the edges, make little tweaks here and there,” Y-Vonne Hutchinson, the founder of inclusion consultancy firm ReadySet, told CNN Business. She said donations and statements do not suffice. “It is going to require a significant shift in the way we do business and how we treat people if we want to make change. I encourage people to be realistic about the nature of that challenge.”
The slow progress stands out that much more in an industry that prides itself on moving fast and disrupting entrenched institutions. Some companies have been willing to quickly overhaul their operations when money is on the line, as happened when Facebook shifted to mobile around the time of its IPO in 2012.
A Google spokesperson said the company is committed to building a more representative workplace that is inclusive for all. The spokesperson also pointed CNN Business to a chart showing that growth for many of its underrepresented communities outpaces the company’s overall growth since it first started publishing diversity reports.
Facebook did not respond to request for comment.
What Silicon Valley needs to do now
Luckie said there are steps companies can take to ensure employees have a means of voicing concerns about diversity efforts, such as having an employee on the board who can be representative of workers. “Many who are feeling some kind of way, who would like to see changes, don’t have the voice or avenue to do that,” he said.
Luckie, like others CNN Business spoke to, stressed that the onus should not be on the Black or other minority employees to do the work to help companies become more diverse.
“If companies truly are committed, they will begin the process of weeding out the people who stood in the way, who have consistently denied that there’s a problem and actively worked against measures to address the problem … they have got to go,” said Miley.
At least some consultants are optimistic this time could be different.
In the US, there has typically been “much more attention” on gender than on race when it comes to diversity efforts, Frei said.
“I expect this moment in time to change that,” she added. “Even when we get to race, we get nervous and don’t stop at Black. We go to Black and Latinx, and I think for the US, that’s probably not the ideal way to do it. We have to hover on Black because that’s where our enslavement was. We created the worst institution in the history of the world and there are legacies for 400 years. We have to address that.”
Frei, who is the coauthor of the released a book called “Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You,” said there are three pieces to successful change: “Honoring the past, having a clear and compelling change mandate, and having a rigorous and optimistic way forward.”
Much like gender is not a problem just for women, Frei feels hopeful that people will begin to understand that race is not a Black people problem. “They should not be shouldering the burden of race,” she said, “we should be shouldering the burden of race.”