Project Include: A Nonprofit Venture to Address Silicon Valley’s Lack of Diversity

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Tech-Diversity

May 4, 2016; New York Times

While the tech industry has started to emerge as a leader in addressing diversity, its employees, and particularly its leadership, remain overwhelmingly male. Indeed, the caricaturized figurehead of tech companies is a post-Ivy League white male nerd. In response, Ellen Pao, Erika Baker, and six other high-profile Silicon Valley women have launched an effort to bring the tech industry to task on its lack of diversity.

Project Include, a nonprofit venture, is meant to increase education and accountability on the well-known and self-admitted lack of diversity in the tech industry. The Project joins a nonprofit movement, alongside organizations such as Girls Who Code and Girls in Tech, which has arisen over the past decade to combat the tech sector’s lack of diversity. Project Include is one of the first, and certainly the most visible, to target its demands on tech companies directly, versus the more commonly seen nonprofit focus on tech education and access.

Pao has herself been in the spotlight over the past few years on this topic, filing and losing a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm known for early investments in Amazon and Google. While the court decided against Pao’s particular case, her trial was successfully in refocusing the public eye on diversity in the tech sector.

While unequal representation and pay permeates all industries, the tech industry’s economic influence and its position as a workforce magnet has made its shortfalls in the area of diversity a key issue. In addition, the high-tech world arguably stands to benefit a great deal—increased diversity comes with a strong business case, valued at $4.3 billion and focused on the innovation upon which Silicon Valley prides itself.

Google, Facebook, and Amazon, along with some of their tech giant peers, have taken a self-critical stance on diversity, publicly sharing the magnitude of the challenge. Google’s diversity homepage cites openly that only 30 percent of its employees are women and a mere nine percent are non-white and non-Asian. Interestingly, U.S. Census figures show that Google’s 60 percent white employment numbers lag behind the general U.S. population of 77 percent, while its 31 percent Asian employees compare to 5.4 percent of the overall U.S. population. After Facebook released its diversity report in 2015, Maxine Williams, the tech firm’s global head of diversity, stated, “We still aren’t where we want to be.  There’s more work to do,” repeating almost verbatim her reflections from the year before.

Still, it remains up for question how dedicated tech companies are to changing the status quo that their shared data so openly shows. Pao says, “The standard mantra for every company on diversity statistics is, ‘We’re not doing well, but we’re working on it.’ People don’t learn anything from that.”

Project Include is demanding that these tech companies, and the venture capital firms that back them, get more specific, become more transparent, and take measurable steps forward—instead of repeating the same self-effacing commentary year after year.—Danielle Holly