We know Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women make up 30 percent of the Silicon Valley tech workforce; 47 percent of the tech workers are white, 41 percent Asian American, 6 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent black.
So lawsuits charging discrimination at Silicon Valley companies, given the underrepresentation of some groups, aren’t unexpected. The surprise is when such charges come from well-represented groups. And that is what has happened in the past couple of weeks.
At the end of September, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Palo Alto’s dominant company, Palantir, accusing it of systematically discriminating against Asian job applicants, hiring far fewer than a general statistical analysis would suggest is reasonable. (The lawsuit referred to Asians, not Asian-Americans. However, that appears to be a matter of semantics.)
And last week, a former Yahoo employee filed a lawsuit against the company charging CEO Marissa Mayer of using the performance review system to discriminate against men by intentionally hiring and promoting women.
Palantir is not one of the companies that has made its diversity statistics public, but it has long spoken of a commitment to diversity.
Yahoo reported diversity numbers in 2014 and 2015; the proportion of women in the overall workforce held steady at 37 percent, while the company increased the number of women in tech from 15 percent in 2014 to 16 percent in 2015. In 2014, the company’s Chief Development Officer, Jacqueline Reses (now at Square), wrote in a blog post that Yahoo is “committed to attracting, developing and retaining a diverse workforce.”
Are lawsuits like these a good thing, or are they going to stall efforts to move towards more diversity in Silicon Valley?
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.