July 23, 2024

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Google’s diversity numbers show incremental progress


Google employees at the company’s worldwide walkout in 2018.

James Martin/CNET

Google’s latest diversity report shows the search giant made incremental progress in hiring black and Latino employees, underscoring the struggles Silicon Valley giants have in making their workforces more representative of the people who use their products.

The numbers, released on Tuesday, are part of an annual practice at Google, which has a full-time employee base of more than 100,000 people. In 2019, Google’s global full-time work force was 68% men and 32%, compared with 68.4% men and 31.6% women a year before.

In the US, the company reported an increase in black employees to 3.7% from 3.4% a year earlier, and Latino employees to 5.9% from 5.7%. The company doesn’t give absolute figures for demographic groups. 

Combined, white and Asian employees make up the vast majority of the company’s full-time workforce, accounting for more than nine out of 10 positions (93.6%). Over the past year, the number of white employees dropped to 51.7% from 54.4%, while the percentage of Asian employees rose to 41.9% from 39.8%.

While the number of black and Latino employees is still relatively small compared with the total workforce, Google said it’s hiring people from those groups at a faster clip than other groups. For example, since Google started releasing diversity reports in 2014, headcount growth for the company overall was 170%, while the company more than quadrupled the number of black employees during that time.

Melonie Parker, Google’s chief diversity officer, said the company has added “thousands” of women and people of color since 2014, but acknowledged the company has a long way to go.

“The progress that we continue to make is hard fought and hard won,” Parker said in an interview. “But we recognize that there’s no one single answer. There’s a multi-faceted approach.” 

Over the past few years, Silicon Valley has been under an intense spotlight when it comes to diversity. With the increased scrutiny, tech companies have dedicated money and resources toward shifting their demographics. In 2015, Intel pledged $300 million toward the cause, even tying executive compensation to diversity goals. 

Companies like AT&T, Lyft and Twitter sponsor nonprofit educational groups like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code. Others, like Netflix, Facebook and IBM have extended family leave policies, in an effort to address issues like child care, which are frequently cited as reasons women and people of color leave their jobs. Apple, Salesforce and PayPal say they’ve reached pay equity. 

Contractors and beyond

Tuesday’s report only takes into account Google’s full-time employees and doesn’t address its TVCs, or “temps, vendors and contractors.” The group reportedly outnumbers Google’s full-time staff. When asked if Google would commit to or consider a report on TVC data, Parker said “not right now.” She declined to comment on why the company wouldn’t do so. 

Diversity has been a hot button topic at Google for the past few years. In 2017, the company was roiled by what came to be known as the infamous “Google memo.” The 10-page, 3,300-word open letter was written by then-engineer James Damore, who argued that a gender gap at Google exists not solely because of sexism, but in part because of “biological” differences between men and women. The controversy sparked national outrage. 

Google’s critics have had other complaints when it comes to diversity. Late last year, Google fired a handful of employees who were active in workplace organizing efforts. Google said the company terminated the workers for violating internal security and data protocols, but some critics claimed Google was retaliating for their work protesting the company. Google was also accused of sexual discrimination because several of the fired workers are part of the LGBTQ community.

Parker, who became Google’s diversity chief after her predecessor Danielle Brown said she was leaving the role a year ago, declined to comment on the terminations. 

Google has also faced blowback from its employees over workplace conditions. In 2018, roughly 20,000 Googlers walked out of the company’s offices worldwide to protest its handling of sexual assault allegations directed at key executives. One of the demands of the protest was to elevate the diversity chief, a role at the time held by Brown, to a direct report of CEO Sundar Pichai, rather than HR chief Eileen Naughton. The goal was to demonstrate Google’s commitment to diversity. The company didn’t make that change.

Parker defended the existing work structure during the interview, saying she liked the current reporting lines. 

“Equity is a part of our strategy, and making sure that systems work as intended,” she said. “And by being embedded in the HR organization, I’m better able to influence that system staying inside HR.”

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