A look back on tech diversity and inclusion in 2016

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A look back on tech diversity and inclusion in 2016

The quest to achieve diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is still in full swing. In the past year, we’ve seen some progress made on the D&I front, but not without hiccups along the way. Believe it or not, people are still racist! And sexist! And homophobic! And transphobic!

Among leading tech firms in Silicon Valley, 57 percent of executive employees were white, 36 percent were Asian American, 1.6 percent were Hispanic and less than 1 percent were black, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity’s first-ever diversity in tech report, which came out in May. Among the total employed at top Silicon Valley tech companies, 47 percent were white, 30 percent were women, 41 percent were Asian American, 3 percent were black and 6 percent were Hispanic.

As yet another year comes to an end, TechCrunch is taking you on a little trip down memory, where you can relive the best and the worst moments in the tech industry’s attempt to diversify its workforce and include people of all different shapes, sizes, colors and abilities.


Slack became the first company to release stats on the intersection of race and gender

Often times when tech companies release their diversity reports, they only show demographic data on race and gender binaries. In February, Slack broke the norm and released data on LGBTQ people as well as data about the intersection of race and gender. Across its engineering workforce, 9% of its employees are women of color.

At Slack, its LGBTQ population grew from 10% of its global workforce in June to 13% in December. Slack’s engineering department in the U.S. is 8.9% African-American, up from 7% in September. In technical roles, which include product, design, QA, engineering and technical account managers, 6.9% of Slack’s department is black. Company-wide in the U.S., Slack is 4.4% black. Slack’s Hispanic population company-wide is 5.6%, and 6.1% in technical roles.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to tell his employees to stop being so racist

In an internal memo obtained by Gizmodo in February, Zuckerberg said he was disappointed by the “several recent instances of people crossing out ‘black lives matter’ and writing ‘all lives matter’ on the walls at MPK.” MPK, one of Facebook’s buildings in Menlo Park, Calif., has a wall reminiscent of the early days of Facebook for employees to write their thoughts.

In the months following those instances, Facebook put up a huge “Black Lives Matter” sign at its headquarters in July after police murdered Philando Castille and Alton Sterling.


Tech leaders stood up for LGBTQ rights

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, along with other tech companies, threatened to stop doing business in Georgia if the state went through with legislation that would make it legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds.

Tech leaders also stood up to North Carolina, urging the governor to repeal the provisions of H.B. 2, which would have eliminated non-discrimination ordinances.

“Equality is a core value at Salesforce and we are committed to protecting our employees and customers from discrimination. HB 2 is an attack on equality, specifically the LGBTQ community, and it creates a discriminatory environment in North Carolina,” Salesforce said at the time. “Salesforce joins companies like Bank of America, IBM, Dow, the NBA and many others in opposing HB 2, and we strongly urge the legislature and Governor McCrory to repeal this law.”


Intel's leadership team received threats over company's stance on diversity

“People worry that as a white man, you’re kind of under siege to a certain extent,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich told Rev. Jesse Jackson on stage at the PUSHTech 2020 in April. “There’s been a bit of resistance. We’ve even had a few threats and things like that on some of our leadership team around our position on diversity and inclusion. We stand up there and just remind everybody it’s not an exclusive process. We’re not bringing in women or African-Americans or Hispanics in exclusion to other people. We’re actually just trying to bring them in and be a part of the whole environment.”

Regarding what kind of threats the leadership team received, an Intel spokesperson said, “The context here is that any time you undertake a big initiative it’s a journey and an ongoing process toward change and evolution. I know you mentioned the words can mean many things so this is the context.”


Project Include launches

Former Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao, Kapor Capital Partner Freada Kapor Klein, Slack engineer Erica Baker, ReadySet founder Y-Vonne Hutchinson, angel investor Susan Wu, Cathy Labs CEO Bethanye McKinney Blount, Atipica CEO Laura I. Gómez and former Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou formed a war room of diversity advocates in Silicon Valley.

Project Include, a non-profit organization, aims to be a resource for people to implement change around diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

Project Include’s set of recommendations for CEOs, leaders and managers at startups aim to help them both foster and accelerate diversity and inclusion inside their respective companies. The goal is to get startups to commit to tracking diversity and inclusion, and ultimately share that data with the tech community.


Airbnb laid out its plan to combat racism and discrimination on the platform

Airbnb was forced to look racism and discrimination directly in the eyes this year, with several reports of racist incidents happening between hosts and renters. Many of those stories were told in conjunction with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.

In June, following an incident where an Airbnb host in North Carolina canceled on a black person and sent them a slew of racist insults, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky came out and said that racism and discrimination don’t have a place on Airbnb. Airbnb also permanently banned the host.

In an attempt to address those instances of racism, Airbnb announced several changes to its platform in September. Those changes included guaranteeing short-term bookings for people who have been discriminated against, deemphasizing the use of user photos, blocking out availability if a host claims a space is taken when it really isn’t and working to increase the number of Instant Book listings, which don’t require hosts to approve specific guests, to one million by the beginning of 2017.


The ACLU revealed that police are increasingly using social media surveillance tools

This summer, the American Civil Liberties Union of California requested records from 63 police departments, sheriffs and district attorneys across California. Of the records they received, 40 percent of the agencies (20) used social media surveillance tools, and most of them started using them within the last year.

But these agencies didn’t notify the public or lawmakers about their use of this type of surveillance. And none of the agencies examined by the ACLU have any policies covering how to use those tools in a way that actually protects civil rights and civil liberties.

With these social media surveillance tools in hand, law enforcement agencies are able to target activists, according to the ACLU’s analysis of records. Agencies are using tools like MediaSonar, X1 Social Discovery and Geofeedia, some of which actively market their products as tools to target activists.

In addition to the fact that law enforcement agencies didn’t tell anyone about their use of social media surveillance tools, it’s unsettling to see the role Silicon Valley plays in all of this. Law enforcement agencies are using tools that are venture-backed and covered by the tech press.

Geofeedia, for example, has raised over $24 million in funding and is used by at least 13 law enforcement agencies in California, according to the ACLU. This raises the question: What responsibility do these tech companies and their investors have to the public?


Palantir denies accusations of racial discrimination in hiring process

The U.S. Department of Labor sued Palantir Technologies, the software and data analysis company contracted by the federal government, for alleged racial discrimination against Asian people in its hiring and selection processes. The lawsuit, filed in September, aims to put an end to Palantir’s alleged discriminatory hiring practices.

About a month later, Palantir responded to the suit, saying that it did not discriminate against Asian people in its hiring process. In a 15-page filing, Palantir said that the allegations “were entirely unfounded and based solely on a flawed statistical analysis.” Palantir also said that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs made a mistake in evaluating the quality of applicants.

Because Palantir is a federal contractor, the company has a legal requirement to ensure that its hiring practices are free of discrimination. The federal government has contracted services from Palantir since January 2010.

Those contracts are worth $340 million, according to the lawsuit. If the lawsuit moves forward, and Palantir does not comply with the requests from the DOL, it would lose its contracts with the FBI, the U.S. Special Operations Command and the Army. The case is currently pending.


Salesforce hired the tech industry's first-ever chief equality officer

It’s important for tech companies to have at least one voice at the senior leadership table that advocates for issues around equality, diversity and inclusion. But that’s just not the case for tech companies. Salesforce, a company that said a year ago that a major focus for it was “the women’s issue,” became an exception to the rule in September with the hiring of Tony Prophet, its first-ever chief equality officer.

“The notion of being chief equality officer — now that was very thoughtful and deliberate on Salesforce’s part and on Marc’s [Benioff] part versus being chief of diversity or chief of inclusion because you can have a diverse workplace or a diverse culture in many parts of America that are very diverse but are hardly inclusive and there’s hardly equality,” Prophet told me in October. “We want to go beyond diversity and beyond inclusion to really achieve equality.”


Turns out the Anita Borg Institute struggles with inclusion

The Anita Borg Institute, the organization behind the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Celebration, has a problem with racial diversity and not practicing what it preaches, several former and current employees told me in October.

They told me that ABI has lacked focus on people of color and leadership has been resistant or dismissive when asked to make inclusion of POC a priority. They also said that the maternity leave policy at ABI is “abysmal.”

I later sat down with ABI CEO Telle Whitney, who told me, “for us, the biggest in terms of diversity is men. Because we work with women we actually only have a few men, but we also look at ethnic diversity. Our staff, we have about 10% African-Americans, about 7% Latino. What’s also important to us is age diversity.”

The Anita Borg Institute has yet to release its own diversity report, but says it plans to by the end of this year.


Just like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft have problems too

A big study came out showing that some Lyft and Uber drivers discriminate against African-American passengers, and passengers with “black-sounding” names.

According to a November study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, black people have to wait longer for rides in Seattle.

Across all platforms, there was “some evidence” that it takes longer for drivers to accept trip requests from black people. But the most problematic platform in the study was Uber because the study found statistically significant longer wait times for black people riding UberX, and found zero significantly different wait times on Lyft and Flywheel. Taken as a whole, according to the study, “it would appear” that there’s evidence of racial discrimination among UberX drivers, some evidence of discrimination among Lyft drivers and no evidence of discrimination among Flywheel drivers.

Later that month, Senator Al Franken asked Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Lyft CEO Logan Green in a letter why it’s necessary to include names and photos of passengers requesting rides, what steps Uber and Lyft can take to dissuade drivers from canceling rides on people with “black-sounding” names and engaging in other discriminatory behavior, and what current policies Uber and Lyft respectively have in place to detect discriminatory behavior. Franken wants them to respond by Dec. 16, 2016.