Silicon Valley may be the world's leading hotbed of innovation and genius, but it struggles with diversity and unconscious bias. Culture wars at shareholders' meetings and recent lawsuits against tech titans such as Google and YouTube over its lack of diverse hiring practices highlight the festering problem. Left untreated, this may be the Achilles' heel that topples the technology industry's supremacy as an entrepreneurial center of excellence. That's because having a diverse workforce is a competitive advantage that drives productivity and profits as companies sell their products and services to a broad population.
Lack of diversity in Silicon Valley is an old story. Nineteen years ago civil rights leader Jesse Jackson first launched a campaign to encourage the region's tech companies to hire black and Latino workers. At the time, he was accused of "terrorism" by Scott McNealy, the co-founder of early Silicon Valley giant Sun Microsystems.
Tech leaders may have changed their tune in the intervening decades — all the top CEOs today loudly proclaim a commitment to "diversity and inclusion" — but in other ways not much has changed in almost two decades. A study released in May by the National Urban League sparked criticism of the tech industry. It revealed that at companies like Uber, Twitter, Google and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.
Recognizing the issue three and a half years ago, a former women's rights lawyer in San Francisco, Joelle Emerson, founded Paradigm, a diversity consulting shop that has become a go-to advisor for tech unicorns, including Airbnb, Pinterest, Slack, Udacity and a slew of Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries, from retail to banking. By taking a data-driven approach, she struck a chord with tech companies.