Joining the Conversation

Last summer, several tech giants like Google, Facebook and Yahoo yielded to pressure and unveiled the demographic makeup of their workforce. Numbers that made headlines. Numbers that just didn’t add up.

It came as no surprise that employees at these companies were predominantly white and male. But in Silicon Valley, with a 28% Latino population, the percentage of Latino employees was truly dismal. Yahoo reported 4%, Google 3%, Facebook 4%, Linkedin 4%, Twitter 3%, and ebay 5%. Many other companies, such as Oracle, refused to disclose any figures. And the percentages were of all employees, not executives or board members. So things were even worse than they appeared.

These glaring disparities, along with several high-profile lawsuits such as that brought by Ellen Pao against the venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins led to media coverage of a corporate culture which not only ignored the contributions of women and minorities, but disparaged them. Silicon Valley generally welcomes publicity, especially about wildly successful startups and newly minted billionaires, but the spotlight now cast a different glare.

Nearly a year has passed since these figures came to light. Diversity and Inclusion (“D&I”) has become a buzzword in Silicon Valley, but the focus has been on gender rather than race. And it’s difficult to establish what’s been done to address the issue, especially as regards Latinos. Many companies, starting with Google, Facebook and Yahoo, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Hiring Latinos would seem to be a fairly easy proposition. Other companies, such as those in the automotive industry, actively recruit Latinos, who are well represented in the C-suite. The hi-tech sector, world-famous for its problem solvers, doesn’t seem to be able to solve this problem. There’s much talk about diversity, but are Latinos being left out of the conversation?

The pressure had come from Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which called on its corporate partners to address the lack of diversity head on. Jackson spoke from a unique position, that of corporate shareholder.

Back in 1999, Jackson’s group bought stock in companies such as Apple and Microsoft, and found allies in Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The hope was to monitor Silicon Valley and make sure African-Americans were being properly represented, as well expand their role in the world of technology. Jackson realized early on that there was a lot of work to be done. Having the foresight to gauge these trends was a stroke of genius, but it soon became clear that the environment was not changing. Corporate demographics held stagnant.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014. After observing year after year of inaction, the time had come for Rainbow PUSH to up the ante. At shareholder meetings, Jackson asked that diversity numbers be made public. And now that the evidence is in, Rainbow PUSH is demanding that Silicon Valley do somthing about it.

The Reverend Joe Bryant is a force of nature that fills any room he enters. Jackson personally appointed Bryant as the diversity watchdog in Silicon Valley, and he wears his passion and energy on his sleeve. At a recent diversity conference held at Microsoft, the Reverend Bryant shared with LATINO a vision his organization sees for all brothers and sisters of color, black and brown. “Even if we have to hold their hands, we are going to walk our Silicon Valley partners from the boardrooms to the hallways of historically black colleges,” declares Bryant.

Rainbow PUSH has achieved tangible results. Recently, Apple announced a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to invest $40 million in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the largest and most comprehensive corporate investment ever into HBCUs. Students will have opportunities to visit Apple’s campus, land internships and be part of a talent database.“Working with the most innovative company on the planet, we’re going to expose more African-American students to the possibilities of a career in technology and inspire them to become future tech innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders,” said Johnny C. Taylor, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s president and CEO.

Earlier this year, Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich announced a $300 million fund to improve the diversity of its workforce: “It’s not good enough to say we value diversity and then underrepresent women and minorities. Intel wants to lead by example.” According to the New York Times, it will “attract more women and minorities to the technology field and make the industry more hospitable to them once they get there.The money will be used to fund engineering scholarships and to support HBCUs.” Jackson  specifically praised the company for “setting more specific goals for hiring.”

The conversation about gender in Silicon Valley has also been loud and clear, fueled by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s  2013 bestselling book Lean In. The courts had their say when Ellen Pao, then a junior partner at Kleiner Perkins, filed a lawsuit citing gender bias and sexual harassment targeting female employees. A jury failed to find Kleiner Perkins liable, but that may not be the last word. Last month, Chia Hong filed a similar lawsuit against Facebook, and software engineer Tia Huang sued Twitter.


One of Silicon Valley’s strongest advocates for Latinos is Ron Gonzales, the former mayor of San Jose and current president of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley. “Companies here have done a miserable job of diversification.” claims Gonzales. “It will take a major effort to turn around these trends.”

Gonzales has been a longtime champion of economic diversity, lobbying hard for initiatives that focus on inclusion in the workforce. He understands the issues firsthand, having worked at Hewlett-Packard in the areas of marketing, human resources, and corporate philanthropy prior to running for mayor. His foundation is dedicated to engaging people to invest in the health, educational achievement, and leadership development of Silicon Valley’s Hispanic community. Recent developments have filled advocates like Gonzales with a renewed sense of purpose.

Another trailblazer is Oscar Garcia, president and CEO of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce. As a Latino and the head of an organization representing the hi-tech firms that call Mountain View home, Garcia is a strong proponent of any platform that stimulates diversity. He acknowledges that many companies need to change hiring tactics, but feels his voice is being heard.

“There isn’t a shortage of talent,” he says. “The key is going out and recruiting that talent.”  Garcia feels corporate recruiters are beginning to think outside the box. “When you look beyond the Stanfords and the Harvards, you’ll be surprised at the talent that lies in our communities.When looking for cultural diversity, you have to go into the churches, the neighborhoods, not just the classrooms.”

One organization started in hopes of advancing the profile of Latinos in technology is the Hispanic IT Executive Counsel (HITEC). HITEC’s mission is to enable business and professional growth for their members and fill the executive pipeline with the next generation of Hispanic IT leaders. “Its no longer an issue of if the pipeline is being built, it’s how quickly can it be filled.” says HITEC President Andre Arbelaez. “We see great things happening at places like Cisco.” Arbelaez cites the work of Rainbow PUSH: “Sometimes it takes a 3rd party to shake things up. Diversity brings innovation. It’s what drives us all. Corporations are finally saying let’s look outside our normal avenues.”


Many companies have hired Chief Diversity Officers (CDO’s) to address and
correct the problem of minority hiring. Antoine Andrews is Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Symantec Corporation.  He brings an East Coast perspective to the sunny Mountain View campus of Symantec with a more practical approach. Symantec makes it a policy to seek external partners who understand the importance of having an impact on increasing the diversity of the talent pipeline within the Tech Industry.  Andrews’ background is extremely diverse, in three vastly different industries, including the NYC  Department of Corrections. He was a Diversity Professional at Bristol Myers Squibb, and prior to Symantec, Andrews led the diversity and inclusion function at Gap Inc. Both companies are well-versed in diversity and inclusion best practices. According to Andrews, some of the non-tech sectors have been working on diversity and inclusion efforts much longer just by the sheer nature of the how long those sectors have been in existence.  Nonetheless, he sees progress being made. “We have a long way to go to level the playing field, but the recent focus in the last year is promising.  We have some of the most creative and brightest minds in our industry, so I expect we’ll be able to find creative ways to address one of our most pressing industry issues.” says Andrews. “I’m encouraged by the programs many of my peers are implementing.”

 Andrews cites numerous Symantec programs that are focused on empowering all demographics.  For example, Symantec just recently graduated its first class from their signature program Symantec Cyber Career Connection (SC3).  The need for cybersecurity professionals in the U.S. is greater than ever. An estimated 300,000 open cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. cannot be filled despite evidence that 20 percent of those positions could be filled by candidates without a four year college degree. SC3’s objective is to attract, educate and train diverse young adults to enter the field of cybersecurity. The program provides a mix of classroom education and soft skills development, followed by on-the-job experience during cybersecurity internships with some of America’s leading employers. After completion of the internship phase of their program, the students then apply for full-time entry level positions.

Symantec’s internal pipeline efforts are  focused on  attracting, developing promoting and retaining diverse talent within the organization. A recent hire for Symantec was Ana Pinczuk, one of the most successful Latina executives in Silicon Valley.  Pinczuk,  SVP and General Manager, Backup and Recovery Business,  comes from Cisco Systems and has a sterling track record of championing diversity issues for women and professionals of color. In 2009, she was named by Diversity Journal as one of the Top 100 Women Worth Watching.

 Also changing the diversity landscape in Silicon Valley are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Last September, Symantec re-launched HOLA, an employee network for Latinos. Founded from a need to formalize employee networks, HOLA grew seeking to cultivate a community that supports Hispanic employees in professional development as well as expose other employees to Hispanic culture.

Cisco’s Latino ERG is called Conexión, focused on building a thriving network based on the vision of building professional development, active recruitment and community outreach not only in Silicon Valley, but also around the globe. Beatriz Pratt, Co-President of Conexión, spends tireless hours coordinating events and outreach programs for the group. “It’s like a second full time job,” says Pratt, “Our 1100 members in nine countries create one of the more sophisticated ERG’s in the world.”

Conexión’s executive sponsors are Ana Corrales and Guillermo Diaz, bringing a wealth of global networking experience. Corrales is SVP of Global Supply Chain Product Operations, a position that takes her to design centers around the world. Hong Kong, Oslo, Milan are just a few of her stops worldwide. Guillermo Diaz is the SVP of Information Technology, where he is accountable for Cisco’s IT architecture, technology strategy, and the sales, services, and software experience for Cisco’s customers and partners.

Shari Slate is Vice President, Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer at Cisco. She oversees a strategy focused on amplifying and accelerating diversity through collaboration. Cisco has created an atmosphere where skill, knowledge and expertise are the parameters of success. According to Slate, the traditional “job” will someday be a thing of the past. “You have to be creative and imagine what’s possible,” says Slate.  “I foresee a time in the future where it is not necessarily about having a corporate badge so much as having the ability to participate in the business experiences and value creation process, without limits.”

At Hewlett-Packard, the CDO is Brian Tippens, also an Advisory Board Member of HITEC.  He acknowledges “a quiet approach to diversity.” HP’s numbers are up a bit, currently reporting close to  7% African-Americans as well as 7% Latinos.

“Creating a diverse, inclusive environment has been an ongoing journey of continuous action for many years.” says Tippens. “Today, our diversity vision is one of global proportions. One that requires courageous, bold actions from many people throughout the world. We are proud to share what we have learned along the way and the aspirations we are actively working to achieve.” In addition to HITEC, the company also supports the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).


For many Latinos in Silicon Valley, the groundswell is being cultivated from
within. Enterprises that once started in garages and college dorms like Apple and Facebook are now gargantuan public companies with layers upon layers of managers and PR flacks. The tables have been turned, and today they’re being challenged by entrepreneurial mavericks barely out of high school. No matter what the obstacles, good talent will eventually be found, and it’s now much easier for free-thinking techies to hone their skills with the help of open source coding and strike out on their own.

One such maverick is Laura Gomez. Her focus on product management and business development have benefited companies such as YouTube, Twitter and Jawbone. Now, her current venture is Atipica, an active resource application solving problems of talent acquisition with consumer web solutions. Laura is one of the increasing number of Latinos who are sought after and recruited for their unique insight into cultural user experiences. She has used the magic of social media to trumpet her talents, and it’s working.

But to succeed, entrepreneurs need access to Venture Capital, which has a diversity problem of its own. According to Forbes, less than 1% of VC partners are Latino. And a study by CB Insights found that 83% percent of the companies receiving funding were led by whites, and barely 1% were Black or Latino. “For the U.S. to thrive into the future, we need vibrant Hispanic businesses. And in the future, every business will be a technology business,” says Angel Mendez, formerly SVP, Cisco Transformation, and a veteran of companies such as Palm, Citigroup and GE.  “So it follows that we will need Hispanic entrepreneurs who are backed at levels no different than any other ethnic group. VC firms need to be far more assertive in finding and nurturing these entrepreneurs.”

Trying to reverse this trend is Manos Accelerator, whose founder Ed Avila believes that in order to make an impact with achieving diversity in tech you need a strong mentorship program. Manos is a program that exposes individuals to subject matter, exports and role models who can be a guide and resource as they progress in their ventures and careers.

“With Manos, that is our number one focus.” Avila shares. “We find talented start-up teams and we expose them to connect with industry professionals with experience in product development, business development, marketing, finance, and fundraising. I don’t know what other companies are doing to address the gap of diverse talent in technology, but our goal is to increase the numbers of diverse entrepreneurs and investors in the startup ecosystem.”

Many of those disillusioned with the slow pace of progress in corporate America find hope in this thriving ecosystem. And that is perhaps where change will come from in Silicon Valley, as it always has, from kids with “insanely great” ideas who channel frustration into their own hopes and dreams.

By Adam Mendoza