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Tech giant Google working to diversify staff

January 16, 2016 at 6:56 PM EDT
American technology companies like Apple, Facebook and Google are striving to improve gender and racial diversity in their workforce. Having revealed their staffs are predominantly white men, the companies are spending furiously to recruit and keep people who aren’t. Hari Sreenivasan reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN: When the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley” poked fun at a fictional company modeled on Google —

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These programmers — there’s always a tall, skinny, white guy; a short skinny Asian guy; a fat guy with a ponytail, some guy with crazy facial hair.

HARI SREENIVASAN: — Google executive Brian Welle saw an opportunity.

BRIAN WELLE, GOOGLE EXECUTIVE: So, this is the world’s view of Silicon Valley, and there is some truth to it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Welle conducts what’s called “unconscious bias training” for tens of thousands of Google employees. It’s a key component of the company’s diversity strategy.

BRIAN WELLE: So, what we want to do is understand what role do we play in making this happen?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ever since the tech giant publicized its gender and ethnic makeup in 2014, it has been under pressure to add more women and minorities to its workforce.

Nancy Lee is Google’s vice president of people operations.

NANCY LEE, VICE PRESIDENT, PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT AT GOOGLE: We were just trying to shine a light on what was going on in our own company, and in this sector, because we really did want to catalyze the conversation and hold ourselves accountable, because once we exposed it, we can’t just go silent.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But after spending almost two years and $265 million on the effort, Google’s workforce looks virtually the same: 70 percent men, and 60 percent white; 31 percent of employees are Asian, but only 3 percent are Latino; and only 2 percent are black.

For a company with nearly 60,000 employees, change will probably be subtle and slow.

NANCY LEE: There’s no silver bullet here, we’re not going to see this massive shift. Frankly, it would probably look unnatural for that to happen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One small change, women in senior management positions: 22 percent, up 1 percent since 2014.

NANCY LEE: And that is a function in part of the fact that the pipeline itself, the pool of talent we’re drawing from at each level, is getting increasingly male.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One way to address the pipeline problem is to challenge stereotypes of engineers, and Google has turned to Hollywood for help.

Mariana is a Latina teenage computer programmer on the TV drama, “The Fosters”. And there’s Loretta, the smart older sister on the animated Disney Junior show “Miles of Tomorrowland.”

LORETTA, MILES OF TOMORROWLAND: My program can detect if anyone else out there is coding right now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Google has been advising Disney-ABC to develop engineering characters that girls can relate to.

NANCY LEE: We found that in fact the perception of what it is to be a computer scientist is a really important factor.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Erica Baker overcame stereotypes to become a software engineer and worked at Google for nine years, but felt she didn’t fit in.

ERICA BAKER, FORMER GOOGLE ENGINEER: It was really interesting when I got to Google that people thought I was only there because of affirmative action. It was like, “Nope, I’m actually pretty good at my job.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Baker felt antagonized by messages posted to Google’s internal communication system, like —

ERICA BAKER: “Diversity isn’t important”, people would say that and more.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, she left the company last May.

ERICA BAKER: I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. I wanted to go to a place where I didn’t have to deal with people questioning my abilities and questioning whether or not I should be there because of my skin color.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Google wouldn’t comment on her complaint. The company says it does not comment on specific employees. But Google does say it’s trying to create a more inclusive culture, producing videos —

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would the world look like if everyone were aware of the stereotypes that they have?

HARI SREENIVASAN: And offering” bias busting workshops” like this one where employees role play.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I’m sorry. Do you know when they’re going to be restocking the Diet Coke in the fridge?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I don’t, but I was wondering the same thing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This scenario actually happened to her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in an office where they have a barista bar, and someone was like, “Oh, can you make me, like, a cappuccino or something like that?”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jason Buberel, who runs some of these workshops, hopes they will encourage underrepresented engineers to stay with the company.

JASON BUBEREL, GOOGLE: I think what I would like to see over time occur here at Google is to see the attrition rate of women minorities in engineering roles decrease over time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Nancy Lee says Google is in it for the long haul.

NANCY LEE: To see something significant where we’re actually hitting a market supply, you know, of 10 percent or something like that of Hispanic and Black Googlers, that’s going to take several years.