Advanced career opportunities are increasingly abundant in areas pertaining to math and science. Positions in fields such as biomedical engineering, computer science and other fields of technology consistently pay above average salaries, with some opportunities requiring less formal education than many realize.
Across a litany of sectors in both society and the economy, racial discrepancies exist that culminate in many businesses lacking racial parity in its employee base. Nowhere is this truer than in Silicon Valley, where the percentage of black engineers specifically is sorely under-represented. Despite comprising 13% of the US population, only around 4% of engineers are black; in Silicon Valley, the number of black engineers is half of that.
The question then becomes: why aren’t there more black engineers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs? Let’s explore some of the potential causes.
Recruiter Biases in Colleges
While many companies in Silicon Valley and its periphery have committed to large-scale projects designed to increase black representing in engineering and other fields, biased practices in how businesses recruit engineers are skewing the process.
In terms of top engineering choices, many Silicon Valley recruiters still seek to procure talent from schools such as Stanford, MIT & Berkeley. Nearly one-third of all black engineering graduates receive their degrees from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which are disproportionately located in the South. Even outside of HBCUs, black engineering graduates are disproportionately created elsewhere: as one example, Georgia Tech graduates more black engineers than any university in the US.
This bias – despite producing some black engineers for Silicon Valley – naturally leads to a shortage of black engineering graduates relative to the total population.
Natural Deficits of Black Engineers
As mentioned, despite black citizens comprising 13% of the US population, only 4% of engineering graduates are black. Given that engineering classes and programs are offered at a litany of colleges in every state, from the highest ranked schools all the way to some of the least-known community colleges, there is no desert of engineering opportunities for black students.
Yet many black engineers report that the path toward this educational outcome was not natural nor easy. A lack of role models is often cited as one reason why even the most dedicated black students don’t often consider a career in engineering. Combined with a lack of general representation in families and communities, many black students grow up without any understanding of what active transport, harmonic mean or a PCB quote calculator indicate or entail. Such isn’t necessarily surprising in situations where large and inter-generational bases of black engineers are lacking.
Consumer Focuses Impact Hiring Perceptions
Even with reasonable explanations as to the discrepancy of black engineers in Silicon Valley and newfound efforts among these companies to hire more minority engineers in general, a broader culture is contributing to the situation as well.
Many companies in Silicon Valley have diversity problems in general, including both in other departments and who they see as their target audiences. Many of the latest tech products aren’t necessarily designed with black consumers in mind. While everybody can appreciate most forms of technology, the root problem of many Silicon Valley companies envisioning a white end-user as their median consumer affects everything from marketing and user experience to hiring.
Broadly speaking, a culture shift in how these companies view consumers in general will help transform Silicon Valley from the inside out, affecting a variety of issues currently resulting in racial discrepancies.
A convergence of factors have created a severe discrepancy of black engineers in Silicon Valley. While it is hard to pinpoint any single factor that is driving this longstanding trend, focus on individual pieces of the problem can ultimately yield results. Retrospection on the part of Silicon Valley will be required, however.