OPINION

Opinion: President Obama can lead the diversity effort among his allies in Silicon Valley  

The White House recently reached into the ranks of Google to fill the post of technology czar. It was just the latest example of a Google executive joining the administration, leaving little doubt about the special relationship the company has with President Obama.

As it turns out, word of the high-profile appointment of Megan Smith largely overshadowed some troubling news that has been coming out of Google lately: disclosures of the company’s dreadful record of hiring Hispanics, as well as African Americans and women.

Google should commit to addressing its poor record on the crucial issue of diversity, especially if called upon to do so by the President on behalf of the nation.

- Jose Marquez

Google, like most other Silicon Valley tech companies, is a largely white and male bastion. Its labor statistics paint an unflattering picture, with Google’s workforce only three percent Hispanic, two percent African American and 30 percent female. The picture is even more dismal when counting only employees in high-tech and leadership roles in the company.

It makes sense, of course, for the White House to hire former Google executives, given the company’s well-deserved reputation for innovative thinking and product development in the highly competitive high-tech industry. For an Administration that has made modernizing government one of its top priorities, Google can provide key tools to help fulfill this objective.

Yet President Obama has a unique opportunity to work with Google to improve its disturbing hiring practices at a time when the unemployment rate among Hispanics (7.5 percent) and African Americans remains higher than that of whites (5.3 percent).

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It is worth noting that Mr. Obama has already used his singular platform as the nation’s first African-American president to push for diversity on a number of fronts. Mr. Obama, for example, has sought to name more women and minorities to the bench, most notably Sonia Sotomayor, who became the first Hispanic to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

For years now, Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association has warned of the hiring practices involving Latinos in Silicon Valley and the lack of interest of building a strong Latino workforce pipeline. We believe an inclusive culture promotes creativity, innovation and drives collaboration. We know no global company today can stay competitive without persistently recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse work force. Diversity is critical to achieving growth objectives and serving customers globally, and although everyone says how important STEM is in our community of color and how important diversity is in Silicon Valley, Latinos are still less than 6% in Silicon Valley.

With jobs in the high-tech industry poised to become among the biggest drivers of growth in the coming decades, it is only natural that the Administration should work with Google and other tech companies to foster diversity in their workforces.

Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are growing at nearly double the pace of their non-STEM counterparts. But as things stand now, Hispanics and other minorities are at risk of being left behind as these jobs become the linchpin of the 21st century economy.

Clearly, Mr. Obama has earned the respect and admiration of Google executives and employees, who have been among his biggest supporters politically. As a result, President Obama has the credibility to persuade Google and other Silicon Valley companies to take steps to quickly integrate greater numbers of Hispanics, African Americans and women into their workforces.

Time is of the essence. Mr. Obama is settling into the final years of his last term in office. As the president and his advisors ponder the legacy he will leave behind, the troubling hiring practices in Silicon Valley cry out for Mr. Obama’s attention and passion.

Without question, Google has benefited as a company from its close partnership with the White House. In return, Google should commit to addressing its poor record on the crucial issue of diversity, especially if called upon to do so by the President on behalf of the nation.

Jose A. Marquez is the National President, CEO, and Founder of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA), a nonprofit organization that advocates on state and federal issues related to the role of Latinos in the technology sector.

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