I’m a white guy in Silicon Valley and I’m done buying the meritocracy myth

We in the Bay Area believe we are illuminati. We boast the highest concentration of big-brains, tech jobs, millionaires, innovative companies, exotic cars and standard of living of any place in the world. If we were a country, our economy would be larger than Ireland, Kuwait, and Ecuador… COMBINED! Clearly we are world leaders in most anything that can be measured, especially in merit-based opportunity.

Or are we?

As a white male, I grew my tech career believing a falsehood that still endures — The Bay Area is a merit-based economy. The lack of women and minorities in our ranks is a pipeline issue.

As a white male, I grew my tech career believing a falsehood that still endures — The Bay Area is a merit-based economy. The lack of women and minorities in our ranks is a pipeline issue. Unfortunately, that’s never been true, and is certainly not true now. This is simply something we keep telling ourselves in order to justify ignoring the problem. We in the Bay Area (and especially tech) have rampant bias when it comes to recruiting, hiring, and promoting women and minorities.

In the last two decades, the amount of women graduating with tech degrees has been in decline; and yet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women make up around 30% of graduates obtaining Math, Science, Computer Science, and Engineering bachelor degrees. Given this, consider the following Bay Area stats:

  • 50.4% of Bay Area residents are women
  • ~15% of high-tech jobs in Bay Area tech companies are held by women
  • 11% of Bay Area executives are women (National average is 16%)
  • 6.5% of Bay Area CEOs are women
  • 7% of Bay Area company board members are women (National average is 19%)
  • 4% of Bay Area VCs are women
  • 0% of partners at some of our largest Bay Area VC firms are women

This is clearly NOT a pipeline problem. I’ll give you one real world example that further demonstrates that tech’s lack of diversity is due not to pipeline deficiency, but to biased hiring and promoting practices: the U.S. Navy.

Now, this is the branch of the military that brought us the Tailhook scandal, so I’d hope we are at least able to say women in the Bay Area face less discrimination and obstacles to advancement than those in the Navy.

A little over a decade ago, the Navy changed its process for promotions. No longer did a bunch of “good ol’ boys” get together to smoke stogies and talk about who should be promoted, but instead, they implemented a blind promotion process where promotions are done by committee, and solely based on a person’s accomplishments and performance reviews. Unconscious bias was completely removed from the promotion process. Do women in the Bay Area have more opportunity here than in the U.S. military, an organization that is 15% women and in 2007 was still issuing female members male combat boots?

As a result of the blind promotion committees, 24% of all Rear-Admiral promotions in 2013 were of women — a landmark victory considering the Navy is comprised of only 16% women!

A single straightforward systemic change erased years of prevalent, biased attitudes that limited women’s advancement in the Navy. It’s time for tech organizations to follow suit, and make the kind of real lasting change required to eliminate the facade they have been perpetuating for years.

>>>>>>> Some readers have asked if there are solutions to this problem. This is exactly what we are working on at Unitive.