There's been plenty of passionate argument this year about the lack of women and minorities working in the tech world, but when CNN went to confirm Silicon Valley's diversity problem with actual Silicon Valley companies recently, most of them refused to share employee data. And sharing diversity numbers — or a lack thereof — is exactly how you fix a diversity problem in the tech world.
After asking 20 companies for data on the male, female, and racial demographics, only three obliged with CNN.com's investigation. Two FOIA requests later, CNN Money's Julianne Pepitone managed to get data from five companies total: Cisco, Dell, eBay, Ingram Micro, and Intel. But Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Microsoft went so far as to file objections with the Department of Labor so Pepitone wouldn't get access to their information, claiming "competitive harm" (even though, as Pepitone writes, "no federal statute bars the DOL from releasing the reports"). Amazon, Facebook, Groupon, Hulu, LinkedIn, LivingSocial, Netflix, Twitter, Yelp, and Zynga got out of sharing their diversity numbers on a technicality. Not too surprisingly, as this interactive graphic shows, women and minorities are underrepresented in the newly available data, and especially at the highest levels. More important than what the data says in public, however, is what these tech companies won't say out loud.
That these companies really don't want to reveal gender and minority figures suggests not only that they have something to hide but perhaps that they don't have much outward interest in addressing the issue. And talking about diversity does improves diversity numbers — at least it did while Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg worked at Google. In her book, Lean In, Sandberg devotes an entire chapter to a concept called "Let's Start Talking About It," in which she describes situations when simply pointing out data differences in terms of diversity can lead to real internal hiring changes. When the Google management team shared data that showed men self-nomiate themselves for positions more often than women do, female self-nomination rates "rose significantly, reaching roughly the same rates as men," Sandberg writes. It's curious, then, despite their tendencies toward being secretive and the potential impact on reputation and the market, that neither Google or Facebook offered to present company data to CNN.
Interestingly, the most forthcoming company, Intel, talks about the male-female gender imbalance a lot. In fact, Intel has all of that information right on its website and this year published a 100-page report on "Women and the Web." The company also posts "case studies" on its site about "empowering women in the work force." Talking, of course, won't do it all. And for roles at tech-world "administration" levels, women still make up less than half of all positions at Intel, as you can see in the CNN data:
Clicking over to "Black" or "Hispanic" in the interactive graphic shrinks those lines down a lot more. Not that pretending the imbalance doesn't exist will solve anything either.