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Topic: The Digital Divide - For Information
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
The Digital Divide - For Information
Posted: May 23, 1998 9:32 PM
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The Digital Divide

High-tech boom a bust for blacks, Latinos

By Julia Angwin, Laura Castaneda, Chronicle Staff Writers

San Francisco Chronicle Monday, May 4, 1998

Blacks and Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of California's
population, are largely missing out on the Silicon Valley technology boom
-- the state's most powerful economic engine since the Gold Rush.

Employment records for 33 of the leading Silicon Valley firms show that
their Bay Area staffs, on average, are about 4 percent black and 7
percent Latino -- even though blacks and Latinos make up 8 percent and 14
percent of the Bay Area labor force, respectively.

The blacks and Latinos who do work at these companies are far more
likely than whites to hold factory, service and support jobs, and less
likely than whites to hold managerial and professional jobs. The
employment records for the 33 companies were obtained from the Department
of Labor through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The valley's firms -- many of which are government contractors -- are
doing little to diversify, although federal law requires them to try to
hire under-represented minorities.

"It's pretty clear that there's an ethnic and occupational segregation
going on in the Silicon Valley," said Manuel Pastor, a professor at the
University of California at Santa Cruz who has studied racial issues in
Silicon Valley.

This racial imbalance, dubbed the "digital divide," is occurring at a
time when affirmative action is the focus of heated nationwide debate.

It also comes at a time when many technology firms, claiming they can't
find enough U.S. workers to fill technical jobs, are clamoring to change
immigration laws to allow them to hire more foreign workers.

But critics say Silicon Valley firms are overlooking a possible
long-term solution to the worker shortage: training blacks and Latinos,
many of whom are in their own back yards, for high-tech careers.

"If you can always find people from overseas, then the economic
necessity does not exist to seek out and train young people from minority
groups," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for
Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan Washington D.C. think tank that often
opposes immigration increases.

Some say the lack of blacks and Latinos in high-tech jobs points to a
larger failure of the U.S. education system -- which threatens to drive
Silicon Valley companies overseas in search of skilled workers.

"Failure to create a competitive workforce represents no less a threat
to our national security than the Soviet Union of bygone years," said
George Campbell, president of the National Action Council for Minorities
in Engineering in New York.

The digital divide is driving a deeper wedge between society's "haves"
and "have-nots."

"Prosperity isn't being shared," said Amy Dean, executive officer of
the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council. "Silicon Valley is very much a tale
of two cities

-- and the community of color is being left behind." There are at least
five major reasons for the digital divide, according to hundreds of
interviews conducted over six months with Silicon Valley firms, black and
Latino high-tech executives, academics, government officials and
community activists.

-- Education: Not enough blacks and Latinos are earning the math and
science degrees that prepare them for high-tech careers.

-- Affirmative Action Laws: Government contractors -- including most
large high-tech firms -- are required by federal law to show they are
making a good faith effort to recruit minorities. But violators rarely
pay fines and are almost never disqualified from getting government

-- Recruiting: Many Silicon Valley firms fail to seek out blacks and
Latinos at minority job fairs and college campuses with large black and
Latino populations.

-- Networks: There are virtually no top-ranking blacks and Latinos in
Silicon Valley to inspire and mentor younger employees.

-- Discrimination: Blacks and Latinos say racism exists in high
technology, as it does in other industries.


Silicon Valley considers itself a meritocracy -- where the color of your
skin doesn't matter as long as you can do the job.

In fact, the workforce at the 33 Silicon Valley firms is about 28
percent Asian, while the Bay Area workforce as a whole is 21 percent

"It wouldn't matter if you were green with white stripes, if you could
code (software) you will get a top job," said Cara Finn, head of
employee services at Remedy, a mid-sized Mountain View software firm.

T.J. Rodgers, the outspoken chief executive officer of Cypress
Semiconductor in San Jose, said the relative dearth of blacks and Latinos
at the 33 firms surveyed "is not a problem."

He added: "We hire the best people for the job, regardless of race,
color or creed, and we find that we end up with a pretty fair mix of

Blacks accounted for about 3 percent of Cypress' workforce and Latinos
made up about 6 percent in 1996, according to latest records submitted by
the medium-sized chipmaking company to the Equal Employment Opportunity

Some firms say it's hard to build a diverse workforce when you're
growing like a weed and racing the competition to get your product to

Netscape Communications in Mountain View, for example, was cited by the
federal government in 1996 for missing the deadline to set up a diversity

"Being the fastest-growing software company ever, we shot past the mark
that the government sets down for putting an affirmative action plan in
place," said Bob Sundstrom, diversity programs manager at the Silicon
Valley's best-known Internet software firm.

Others say it's not the industry's fault that there are so few blacks
and Latinos qualified for professional high-tech jobs.

"It's the American public's duty," said Mary Jane Weaver, a San
Francisco immigration attorney who represents many high-tech firms. "I
don't think it's fair to make corporations responsible for education."


In Silicon Valley, an engineering or computer science degree is a ticket
to full employment. That's because demand for employees with these
degrees is increasing, while the supply is shrinking.

The number of math, computer science and engineering bachelor's degrees
earned by all U.S. students has slipped by nearly one-fifth in the past
decade -- to about 100,000 in 1995 from almost 124,000 in 1985.

The percentage of these degrees awarded to blacks and Latinos increased
dramatically during that time period, but it was still less than 11
percent of the total in 1995.

The divergence starts early.

More than two-thirds of black and Latino students go to elementary and
high schools with a predominantly minority population -- which tend to
have less money than majority white schools, according to a recent study.
The study was commissioned by the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy
group in Washington, D.C., that focuses on educationally disadvantaged

The same study found that math and science are given short shrift in
underfunded middle schools and high schools. For example, 69 percent of
math classes in mostly white schools were taught by math majors, while
only 42 percent of math classes in minority schools were taught by math

In California, black and Latino secondary school students are much more
likely than whites to be tracked into remedial education classes and are
rarely found in advanced placement classes, the study found.

"Every day we do things to sabotage the education of poor kids, black
kids and Latino kids," said Amy Wilkins, senior associate at Education

However, the lack of a math and science background cannot be the only
reason why there aren't more blacks and Latinos working in Silicon
Valley. That's because the majority of jobs -- including many
professional positions in human resources, accounting, finance and
marketing -- do not require a technical degree.

Only one in three employees at software firms in Silicon Valley --
defined as Santa Clara County and adjacent parts of San Mateo, Alameda
and Santa Cruz counties -- are engineers, systems analysts or computer
programmers, according to a study by Collaborative Economics, a Palo Alto
consulting firm that specializes in community development.

Yvette del Prado, a Latina, got a high-ranking job in high tech without
a technical degree. She was a school superintendent before being
recruited by Tandem Computers in Cupertino to oversee employee training
and customer service.

Del Prado is now vice president of external affairs at Silicon Graphics,
a Mountain View computer-maker. She thinks there would be more blacks and
Latinos in high tech if companies got more creative about recruiting.

"Good managers are good managers whether they're in corporate America
or a school system," she said. "All skills of managing are transferable."


Although affirmative action is being chipped away, it is still the law
for federal contractors -- including many large Silicon Valley firms.

Companies that win government contracts of $50,000 or more are not
required to hire a certain number of minorities, but they must prove that
they've made a "good faith effort" to implement an affirmative action

The U.S. Labor Department has cited more than a dozen Bay Area high-tech
firms in the past seven years for affirmative action violations.
Comparative figures are not readily available for other industries
because the Labor Department does not maintain citation records by

Most of the Silicon Valley firms were cited for failing to actively
recruit blacks and Latinos. The penalty, in most cases, was that the
companies were required show they were trying to recruit blacks and

For example, Adobe Systems was cited in 1995 for not having a minority
recruiting plan even though the company had no blacks and Latinos among
its 274 technicians, sales reps and engineers.

To comply, the San Jose software maker had to acknowledge the deficiency
and put a recruiting plan in place.

"It was a technical violation related to how we were keeping our
records," said Bob Estko, director of human resources at Adobe. He said
the company has since stepped up minority recruiting, but he would not
release any numbers.

The Department of Labor cannot fine firms unless it finds a worker who
was denied a job for which he or she was qualified. In that case, the
worker can get back pay for the period of unemployment.

Since 1991, the Department of Labor has fined four Silicon Valley firms
for this type of racial discrimination -- Apple Computer of Cupertino,
Everex Systems of Fremont, Oracle of Redwood Shores and Solectron of

Solectron -- an electronics maker that is the only two-time winner of
the national Malcolm Baldridge award for quality manufacturing -- had to
pay the biggest fine.

It paid $151,583 in back wages to eight blacks and Latinos who were
turned down for factory jobs in 1993 and 1994.

It also had to pay $86,132 in back wages to two black men who were
rejected for engineering positions. Solectron would not comment on the

The Labor Department almost never uses its only other threat: debarment
-- the banning of a company from getting federal contracts.

Since it was started 25 years ago, the department's Office of Federal
Contract Compliance has debarred only 41 companies in all types of

Helen Haase, regional director of the office, said she often wishes the
agency had the ability to fine companies that don't take affirmative
action seriously.

"If it were financially costly to companies," Haase said, "they might
have a better incentive to keep good records."

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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