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 contracts.
-- 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.
THE INDUSTRY'S VIEW
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 Asian.
"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 people."
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 Commission.
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 market.
Netscape Communications in Mountain View, for example, was cited by the federal government in 1996 for missing the deadline to set up a diversity program.
"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 students.
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 majors.
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 Trust.
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."
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION LAWS
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 program.
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 industry.
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 Latinos.
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 Milpitas.
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 case.
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 industries.
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) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU