Why Google Should Call Some Black Friends

If Google is serious about diversity, the best thing it can do next is to ask for help.

Outside Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Outside Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google just did something few tech companies have shown interest in doing: It seriously confronted the issue of diversity—or, rather, its lack thereof.

The company issued a report on its workforce diversity, and let’s just say, if it had wanted to, the report could have been summarized as follows: “When it comes to Latino and black employees, we have almost no diversity.” At the moment, 2 percent of Google’s workforce is black, despite black Americans making up 13 percent of the population. Hispanics are just 3 percent of its workforce, despite being nearly 17 percent of the population.

To its credit, Google not only commissioned the report—something it did not have to do—but also shared the results, something it also did not have to do.

“We’ve always been reluctant,” said Senior Vice President Laszlo Bock, “to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.”

Compare the company’s newfound embrace of transparency with the ongoing and well-documented reticence of its Silicon Valley peers. Bock cited a number of usual suspects for the lack of diversity, including a lower number of Hispanics and African Americans seeking STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees. He noted that the company has invested resources in turning the academic tide. But that’s just one solution.

As I discussed earlier this week, employers have the tools, if they make it a goal, to ensure that they have a diverse workforce. The problem is that data shows that many of those with hiring power unconsciously discriminate against those who are not like them, in ways that they are not even aware of. With the immense racial imbalance at Google—where 61 percent of the workforce is white—that means diversity will simply not be possible unless the company aggressively seeks it. Commissioning this report is a great first step. Doing something about its unfortunate findings is the most important step.

Diversifying the pipeline in academia is hugely important. So are the efforts of nonprofits like All Star Code, aimed at inspiring young people of color early in their lives to pursue the STEM career path. But if Google is truly serious about diversity, perhaps the most important thing it can do is this: Ask for help.

In other words, I am, genuinely and without any snark, encouraging the company to reach out to individual members of minority groups whom folks at Google know, or know to have tremendous influence and reach—and, most importantly, overflowing Rolodexes.

Yes, I’m telling Google it needs a black friend. And definitely more than just one.