Tag Archives: diversity in technology

Apple’s Diversity Chief Departs After Just Six Months

Denise Young Smith

Denise Young Smith, a 20 year Apple veteran, is departing her job as the first Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion after just six months. Smith has announced she will be accepting a position as executive in residence at Cornell Tech in January.

Smith’s departure was planned but comes on the heels of a controversial comment made in October.  Smith was speaking on a diversity and racial injustice panel at the One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia. She was asked by Quartz’s moderator Aamna Mohdin  if she would focus on any specific group in her diversity efforts. Her reply was not well received. Smith said she wouldn’t single out any one demographic for advancement. Her comment, transcribed by TechCrunch is as follows;

“I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color or the women or the LGBT or whatever because that means they’re carrying that around… because that means that we are carrying that around on our foreheads. And I’ve often told people a story—there can be 12 white blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation. The issue is representation and mix and bringing all the voices into the room that can contribute to the outcome of any situation.”

Silicon Valley has a serious diversity problem and Apple is not immune. Apple’s workforce numbers show that only 9 percent of Apple’s workforce is African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Asian and 56 percent white. It’s not a pretty picture when you consider that most non-white employees are found in  Apple’s retail stores. Smith was expected to at least make progress on the issue but not a lot has changed. However, she was working on developing Apple’s diversity scholarship program.

Realizing she had fumbled the issue Smith emailed her team following the comments;


I have always been proud to work for Apple in large part because of our steadfast commitment to creating an inclusive culture. We are also committed to having the most diverse workforce and our work in this area has never been more important. In fact, I have dedicated my twenty years at Apple to fostering and promoting opportunity and access for women, people of color and the underserved and unheard. 

Last week, while attending a summit in Bogota, I made some comments as part of a conversation on the many factors that contribute to diversity and inclusion. 

I regret the choice of words I used to make this point. I understand why some people took offense. My comments were not representative of how I think about diversity or how Apple sees it. For that, I’m sorry. 

More importantly, I want to assure you Apple’s view and our dedication to diversity has not changed.  

Understanding that diversity includes women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all underrepresented minorities is at the heart of our work to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone. 

Our commitment at Apple to increasing racial and gender diversity is as strong as it’s ever been. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but there is much work to be done. I’m continually reminded of the importance of talking about these issues and learning from each other. 



Breaking It Down

This was  a sad day for the idea of diversity in Silicon Valley. People of color thought Apple had appointed a warrior to fight the diversity fight. Perhaps they did. Perhaps Smith misspoke. People do that. But her statement reveals how severe the diversity problem is in Silicon Valley boardrooms. A boardroom that she was apart of. Did she feel not focusing on a single group was an effective strategy? Again, perhaps. But diversity is about bringing in different colors of skin as well as ideas. Its about inclusion. I believe her when she said she believes in that. What she failed to realize is that ‘blue eyed blond white men” are not what her job asked her to bring in. This is just not what diversity advocates want to hear from a person in her position. Wrong choice of words Ms. Smith but lets move on. Smith is a women. A black women. A successful black women. A successful black woman at the world’s most successful company. She was in a position to change things, to make difference, To find other women and minorities who are as capable as her and look like her. I’m not going to label her a failure. But she clearly stumbled.



Google Brings Howard University to Silicon Valley

Google is bringing computer science majors from Howard University to the famed Silicon Valley. Starting this summer Howard University will open a campus at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Junior and senior computer science majors from Howard’s computer science program can attend the aptly named “Howard West” for three months.  Senior Google engineers and faculty from Howard will serve as instructors. 

It is extremely expensive living in the Silicon Valley even for three months. The school says the students will be provided with “a generous stipend to cover housing and other expenses in Silicon Valley.” According to the school the money will come from Howard and private donors.

Howard University program is expected to host only 25-30 students this summer but plans are to expand the program to as many as 750 students from all HBCU’s over the next five years. 

Google Vice President of Global Partnerships and Howard University alumna, Bonita Stewart said the partnership with Howard University “is now the centerpiece of Google’s effort to recruit more black software engineers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and to make them feel right at home here in Mountain View.”

Google like, many tech giants, have struggled to achieve the elusive goal of diversity. For the past few years Google openly shared data on its workforce revealing the race, gender and ethnicity of each employee hired the previous year. Although the number of African-American employees went up they still only respresented 2 percent of the Google’s employees. Google admits it still struggles to met its diversity goals.

According to Stewart Google believes “Howard West” helps Google reach that goal faster. “We have the opportunity to be able to build a qualified pipeline of talent across the black community,” she said.

Breaking It Down

I like and applaud the annoucement but it is backwards. First of all why is Howard University sending students out to Silicon Valley; the most expensive to place to live on the planet? Howard University and private donors are going to pay for rent and accompanying expenses. Google isn’t coughing up a dime for those expenses. But why not? Its called an investment. But wouldn’t it make more sense from an academic and financial standpoint to bring the Google engineers to Howard as instructors? This would allow more students to gain from the companies knowledge. Why isn’t there a program from Google and other tech giants to offer these high level computer engineers to HBCU campuses on a sabbitical to teach black computer science majors?  This would allow them to select the very best black students for the high paying internship program. And I do mean high paying. Interns at Google can pull in $10,000 a month according to a report from Purdue University. Its called an investment. Black computer science students don’t need a 90 day field trip to California. What they need is the Google Academy at Howard University. What they need is Microsoft Coding School at Alabama A&M. What they need is for these multi-billion dollar companies to spend money to address these problems and quite playing around with short sighted ideas. Invest in black schools and your diversity problem will soon be a thing of the past. My point is this, major corporations like the NBA and the NFL have great relationships with colleges, unversities and even high schools that allow them to find the very best black athletes. Its called an investment. Why can’t major tech companies do the same if they are looking for the very best black computer science students? Answer me that.



Diversity Continues to Elude Tech Industry

Image by Stuart Miles

For all the hoopla and declarations by companies promising to improve diversity not a lot is happening. As matter of fact some companies have delayed or outright resisted releasing certain diversity data.

According to the Wall Street Journal Twitter, Pinterest and Salesforce.com delayed their diversity reports for more than a year.

Salesforce.com finally released its diversity data in December. The numbers showed little has changed. According to the company the release was delayed to accomodate the hiring of a diversity leader. That job went to Tony Prophet who will focus on initiatives to bring greater diversity to the business software company. Prophet came over from Microsoft where he was was co-executive sponsor of Blacks at Microsoft and founding executive of BlackLight, an organization for black marketers at Microsoft.

Google and Facebook have tried to increase diversity but failed to make any real progress. According to TechCrunch.com  Googles’s chief of diversity, Nancy Lee, maybe leaving the company.

Lee joined Google in 2006 to focused on Google’s diversity efforts as the director of people operations in 2010 becoming vice president of that division in 2013. Lee managed to increase the number women in the company by one percent but the number of blacks and Latinos did not change at all.

Facebook’s diversity data is also nothing to brag about. The latest diversity report showed that only 2 percent of its U.S. workforce is African-American and only 4 percent are Hispanic. Facebook has made respectable progress in hiring minorities into leadership positions. According to the company 9 percent of new senior leadership hires in the U.S. are African-American and 5 percent are Latino. Women in leadership positions at Facebook has increased from 23 percent to 27 percent in a year.

But the lack of diversity is not the sole fault of the tech industry. There are other factors that must be taken into account.  Many black and Latinos computer science majors choose not to go into the tech field. Why?

According to the Census Bureau American Community Survey forty percent of Asian graduates pursued technology careers compared to only 16 percent of black graduates and 12 percent of Latinos. .

Ten percent of black computer science and engineering graduates end up with office, administrative support or accounting jobs, compared with 5 percent of white graduates and 3 percent of Asians.

Maya A. Beasley, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut studied U.S. Department of Education data for her book; Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite.”  According to Beasley black students were less likely than white students to continue in the major if they felt that there were underperforming. In addition African-American students who stayed in the major were less likely to apply for technical jobs choosing instead to pursue nonprofit or business work instead. Others failed to seek out jobs in technology because of the percieved atmosphere and culture of technology companies as unwelcoming to blacks.

Beasley said; “Any student of color looking at the numbers from the tech giants is going to be turned off and wary about taking a job there because it tells you something about what the climate is. They don’t want to be the token.”

Another major issue is the recruiting process. Many tech companies are seeking talent at the top universities where blacks are not heavily represented. The pipeline to talented students does reach to many historically black universities.

Another issue in the hiring process is the interview. Black colleges may not be properly preparing black students to get the jobs. Technology recruiters conduct interviews by giving code writing candidates whiteboard interviews. A whiteboard interview consists of solving a problem by writing code on a whiteboard. Unlike Asian and white recruits black students are unprepared for this challenge.

Yet another obstacles may the student’s name. Research has shown that many recruiters shy away from black sounding names. This is a common problem among hiring mangers who may have an unconcious racial bias. 

Breaking It Down

How is it possible for a major university to find the most incredible black athlete in the most tragic schools and neighborhoods in the country but you can’t find a black student capable of learning computer science? How is this possible? That same questions applies to major tech corporations. High tech companies like Intel, Microsoft, Cisco and the hundreds of other should be able to apply the same search and recruiting skills that a college basketball or footbal coach uses to find capable recruits and apply them to your human resources recruiting. College and pro sports teams identify and track promising atheletes from junior high school to the day of the pro draft. Using extensive record keeping, and yes technology, to track and predict their potential. Why can’t technology companies do the same? Find these promising young men and women in middle school and groom them as your future workers. Get involved when they are young and show interest in their future. Get involved in black and minority schools, public schools. The model is there and the pay off could be huge. If you would just try.

Black Women in Technology Doing Their Own Thing – Stephanie Lampkin


Stephanie Lampkin, Founder-CEO Blendoor

Technology and diversity are not synonymous. But that is not to say that African-Americans and people of color are not making efforts and having success in the cyber realm.

Black people have a saying; “Step out on faith.” That means you believe in yourself and a higher power to succeed. These sistahs have knowledge and talent and have stepped out into the tech industry with new and powerful ideas that can change the world. Black women are breaking the mold and shattering stereotypes by making a difference in the tech industry. 

One of the biggest problems in the technology industry, and industry in general, is racial prejudice. It is common for people with so called “black sounding” names to be passed over for employment opportunities. One black woman has decided to fight back.

Stephanie Lampkin launched Blendoor to fight racial bias in hiring practices. Blendoor was one of the winning companies at Google Demo Day. Lampkin’s company also won Tech.Co’s Startup of the Year competition in 2015.  Blendoor is a recruiting application that shields the prospective job candidate’s name, picture and dates to help curtail racial bias in hiring. Blendoor is focused on providing candidates to companies based on “merits not molds.”

“It’s quantifiable,” said Lampkin. “We realized that hiding names and photos created a safer space. Women and people of color felt better sharing their information.”

Racial bias in hiring has tools. Ethnic sounding names and faces of color are often rejected and using the well traveled professional networks can be an obstacle. 

Lampkin believes women, people of color, members of the LGBT community and other minorities in Silicon Valley feel alienated by job search websites that reveal a candidates name and headshot.

Lampkin told Forbes.com; “I know a number of really successful, Ivy League-educated, African-American people between 35 and 45 who refuse to use LinkedIn out of fear of discrimination. These companies are founded by white guys. There’s a psychology I understand as a woman of color that’s driven how and why I’ve shaped the product the way I have.”

Lampkin 31, is an amazing story. She was born into a welfare household and her mother was at one time homeless while pregnant with her. Yet Lampkin over came incredible odds to become the CEO of a technology start up. She learned how to write code by the time she was 13 then went on to graduate from Stanford and MIT and worked for five years at Microsoft.

But Lampkin learned that was not enough. She was still ignored for jobs at major technology companies. As a black woman, Lampkin admits it was probably because she “did not look the part.” She just didn’t fit the mold of what tech companies are looking for. Deliberate or not it is commonly known as pattern matching. Lampkin states that often veterans and disabled people are also sifted out of the candidate pool.

Lampkin remembers advancing deep into the interview process for a prized job at a well-known tech firm in Silicon Valley. In the end she was told her background wasn’t “technical enough” for a role in software engineering.

“The recruiter told me a sales or marketing job might open up,” said Lampkin. She landed at Microsoft where she spent the next five years. Lampkin is nobody’s fool and understands that being a black women was not an asset in the tech industry. Repeated job rejections have taught her that.

Blendoor is not a one way street for companies looking to improve diversity in its ranks. Job candidates can also use the app to examine a company’s inclusion programs and diversity of its executive staff. 

The app will also collect data on who is applying to tech’s most sought-after positions and who is getting them.  “Blendoor wants to make companies accountable using data,” Lampkin said.

Now you know.