Silicon Valley Has the Tools to Hack Its Diversity Problem

08/04/2015 02:00 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2016

Recently the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) led a delegation of leaders for a summit and meetings with Silicon Valley company executives to discuss a roadmap to bridge the diversity gap. With Latinos averaging 4.5 percent and African Americans 2.5 percent of the Silicon Valley workforce, the sector is missing out on top diverse talent. We had a constructive dialogue with glimmers of positive trends, but we know Silicon Valley has the tools to hack its diversity problem.

There is a glaring disconnect between the underrepresentation of Latinos and African Americans in Silicon Valley companies and the existing talent pipeline in both tech and non-tech fields. We shared data released by Excelencia in Education, showing 54,000 plus Latinos earned credentials in 2013 or nearly eight percent of all the computer science, IT, and computer engineering degrees. There are 25 top universities awarding STEM degrees and certificates to Latinos, 13 are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and six are in California.

A recent Washington Post article "Silicon Valley Struggles to Hack its Diversity Problem," also made this case. The article notes that many Silicon Valley companies blame a meager talent pipeline as one of the main culprits for their diversity woes. Yet, the Computing Research Association data found, of the total bachelor's degrees in computer science, 7.7 percent were Latino and 4.1 percent African American graduates. Likewise, African Americans represent 3-4 percent and Latinos are 4-7 percent of the non-technical workforce at Silicon Valley companies, while they represent 13 percent and 16 percent respectively in the U.S. workforce.

The Silicon Valley tech sector needs to widen the pipeline of minorities in computer science by investing in proven K-12 programs and HSIs. It is imperative to the nation's future that leading tech companies invest to develop its future workforce here at home. Already, Latinos are 25 percent of Americans under 18 and will represent half of all new entrants in the workforce by 2025. We must invest in this critical segment of America's future workforce if the nation is to prosper and continue to be the world's strongest economic power.

At the summit, there were questions as to whether tech companies rely too heavily on H1B visas as a shortcut to the perceived lack of domestic talent and divert their responsibility to invest in the U.S. pipeline. There is an important role for H1B visas to play; they were created so that companies can compete for top world talent in specialty, technical skills. However, a June New York Times article reported disturbing trends in the use of H1B visas. Conversations have been underway in Congress to revisit H1B practices and the community is asking what is being done to hold companies accountable for investing in a workforce pipeline that reflects the diversity of America. If H1Bs were not so readily available, would that compel companies to do the right thing?

We offered a comprehensive approach to completely reverse the deeply entrenched disparities in Silicon Valley's workforce. CHCI will release the full report and finding at its 2015 Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. this October.