Can Technology Companies Achieve Diversity?

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, corporate America is trying to walk the talk when it comes to matters of racial justice and equality. This time it’s bigger than press releases or PR-driven diversity pledges. Early efforts have been led by African-American CEOs, entrepreneurs, and companies that serve a diverse customer base, but nearly all major brands have stepped up. Nike pledged $40 million over four years to support black communities. Comcast has committed $100 million over five years in grants to equal justice groups and support for small businesses owned by people of color. Wal-Mart has ponied up $100 million in community grants… and the list goes on.

Big Tech struggles to reach DEI goals

Yet businesses continue to fall short when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. One glaring example is the technology sector. From startups to enterprise companies, tech just can’t seem to make measurable progress when it comes to greater black representation in senior management and on boards. Venture funding, too, goes mostly to youngish white men.

Make no mistake, just like other businesses, Big Tech has stepped up with financial pledges to antiracist causes and statements of commitment to racial justice. But six years after their first diversity reports, a string of technology players have seen only marginal increases in the number of black employees. Overall, nearly every company on the top-tier list has fallen short of their announced goals. Facebook went from having a three percent black workforce to 3.8 percent over a five-year period. Amazon’s numbers are better, but they include warehouse and delivery personnel who typically don’t enjoy the salaries and benefits of office employees.

Data-driven — except when they’re not

Diversity experts say that part of the problem is these large tech companies just weren’t designed with diversity in mind, so efforts now amount to a “retrofit.” If that’s the case, one would think that the startup and venture worlds would offer greater potential for progress against DEI metrics. Yet, there, too, the news isn’t very encouraging. The progress reported is around women entrepreneurs — good to hear, but it’s not enough.

Clearly, for the tech world to become more diverse, there should be not just metrics, but consequences for falling short of DEI goals. As Bari Williams, former senior counsel at Facebook puts it, “These companies are data-driven, but if people are not hitting their diversity metrics, where’s the downside?” There seems to be none.

Start with startups

And in the startup world, there will never be equal investment in black-founded startups until and unless venture capital companies are more racially diverse. TechCrunch reports on a rush by VCs to support black founders and investors since the protests began. SoftBank, the world’s single largest tech investor, has announced a $100 million Opportunity Fund that will invest exclusively in black startup founders and other entrepreneurs of color.  Andreessen Horowitz has followed with the unveiling of its Talent x Opportunity Fund established with donations from a16z partners for all-important seed capital to entrepreneurs with non-traditional backgrounds.

It’s a move in the right direction. In addition to diversity within VCs, formal and informal mentorships and accelerators for nonwhite founders would seem critical channels for building truly diverse organizations from the get-go. Starting with startups is a real key to building a more diverse technology sector and community.

The commitments amount to a big step forward, and the intentions are good. But reaching real DEI metrics in this sector, as in others, is a whole lot harder than it sounds. The protests will eventually fade, and the economy could slip into recession, or worse. But commitment to racial diversity and equality is now inextricably linked to business reputation. And now the world is watching.

At Crenshaw Communications, We Stand For Racial Justice

The past week has been painful, disturbing, and enlightening. It’s time to speak up. With protests happening across the country, we need to make our position clear, as individuals, as a citizen of the New York City business community, and a member of the PR industry.

We at Crenshaw Communications stand for social justice and join our fellow citizens in demanding accountability for any action that disrespects the dignity and value of a black life. Whether in the streets or in the workplace, we support diversity, equity and inclusion and strive to conduct our business and our lives accordingly.

It’s a small gesture, but to demonstrate support, we will donate $5000 to the groups below. They are all highly rated by Charity Navigator and you can find more information about each and other worthy organizations here. 

Center for Constitutional Rights


Equal Justice Initiative

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Minority Corporate Counsel Association

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund


Public Justice Center

Southern Poverty Law Center

We also pledge to learn more about issues affecting the African-American community in our country and encourage our employees, like-minded friends, and our community to do the same. Our goal is not just to espouse support for DEI, but to become an ally.

Some recommended reading for those interested:

Black Americans still are victims of hate crimes more than any other group (Public Integrity)

How You Can Be Ally to the Black Lives Matter Movement (Great Big Story)

Black People Need Stronger White Allies — Here’s How You Can Be One (Refinery29)

Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor and How To Be An Antiracist

It’s painfully obvious that the public relations industry is lacking in diversity. There are many reasons for it, but this, too, should and can change. It’s a stubborn and multifaceted issue and a real problem that I have blogged about in the past. The good news is that client companies have led the way and the agency community has made a commitment to reversing our lack of diversity. We can accelerate that change.

We will continue to use this space for updates on our progress on this front and we’re open to constructive suggestions. We have witnessed tragic and terrifying events, but they represent a turning point in our history as a country and a business community. We hope to be among the many who are determined in ways large and small to make this crisis work for constructive change.