Google, Don't Be Hypocritical

Search engine wrongly fights to hide employment data about race and gender of employees

By Owen Thomas
|  Monday, Feb 15, 2010  |  Updated 4:27 PM CDT
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Google, Don't Be Hypocritical

Latham Jenkins

Googlers don't want you to know how white and male they are.

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Here's a question for which you can't Google the answer: How diverse is Google's workforce?

Despite its supposed mission to "organize the world's information," Google has fought to hide data about the race and gender makeup of its workforce.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that it had fought for 18 months through Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain data collected by the Department of Labor about the employees of Google and 14 other large Silicon Valley employers.

The question of diversity cuts to the core of Silicon Valley's values. Investors, entrepreneurs, and managers love to tout the technology industry's so-called meritocracy, in which talented workers rise quickly to the top. And yet the reality is that the technology industry remains dominated by white males, especially in management.

Google, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle, and Applied Materials successfully argued against the release of the data, claiming it would cause them "commercial harm."

Hewlett-Packard also tried to fight the request, but its lawyers did not provide the detailed objection requested by the government, and its data was released.

The numbers are telling: The 10 companies whose data was released saw employment rise from 1999 to 2005 even as the number of African-American and Hispanic employees and managers dropped. Only 2,200 of 30,000 employees in 2005 and only 300 out of 5,900 managers were were Hispanic or African-American.

Approximately 29 percent of the Bay Area's population is Hispanic or African-American.

Google does talk about diversity -- but only when it suits its purposes.

In testimony before Congress, Google's top HR executive, Laszlo Bock, actually claimed he didn't know how many African-American employees the company had. His answer seemed improbable at the time, given the company's commitment to gathering data and measuring every aspect of its business.

Marissa Mayer, a high-profile vice president at the company, disclosed to radio station KQED in 2008 that the company aims to have 25 percent of its technical workforce be female.

Has Google met its own internal benchmark? We don't know, because the company won't allow the release of data that would tell us.

Arguing, as Google has, that statistics about the race and gender of its employees and management are trade secrets is embarrassing.

But not, perhaps, as embarrassing as the actual numbers.

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