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Google pushes for diversity

Tackling ‘pipeline problem’ and ‘unconscious biases’

– Google has had more trouble diversifying its workforce than its computer scientists have had writing programs that respond to search requests in the blink of an eye or designing cars that can navigate traffic without a human behind the wheel.

That seemed to be the conclusion when the Silicon Valley giant this week issued a gender and ethnic breakdown of its workforce, showing that of its 26,600 U.S. employees, 61 percent are white, 30 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black. Thirty percent of its employees are women.

Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Advanced Micro Devices have published similar breakdowns.

“Google is miles from where we want to be,” said Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations.

Why is one of the most innovative, dynamic sectors of the U.S. economy looking like the corporate world of the past, at least when it comes to blacks, Hispanics and women?

The biggest factor is a shortage of such students majoring in computer science or other technical fields in college, according to Bock.

“There is an absolute pipeline problem,” he told “PBS Newshour” on Wednesday.

One year, Bock said, there were just two black people in the U.S. with newly minted doctorates in computer science on the job market. Google hired one, and Microsoft hired the other, he said.

But the educational choices of some minorities don’t entirely account for the lack of diversity at technology companies.

For instance, Google employs more than 2,900 salespeople in the U.S. as of last August. Just 79 of them, or 3 percent, were black; 127, or 4 percent, were Hispanic. More than 2,000, or about 70 percent, were white.

Google attributes this to “unconscious biases” that have historically favored white people.

“We like people who are like us, who watch the same shows, who like the same food, who have the same backgrounds,” Bock told PBS.

To address this, Google has put more than 20,000 employees through training sessions to raise their awareness of their biases.

Google is also trying to do more recruiting at colleges with large minority enrollments.