Google's diversity numbers haven't changed, but the conversation has

A year after pledging to improve diversity within its company and across the industry, Google's numbers haven't budged much. But what may be more important is that it’s effectively changed the conversation.

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"We've always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it's time to be candid about the issues." This mea culpa constituted something of a bombshell in Silicon Valley when it was published on Google's blog in May 2014. That the Valley's demographics are overwhelmingly white and male is obvious to anyone who's been paying attention, but actually admitting it publicly? Well, that just wasn't done. Until Google, that is.

Now, a year later, it's time to face the music. On June 1, Google again publicly released its diversity numbers, and they look remarkably similar to those released in 2014, despite the $115 million invested in diversity initiatives. Google announced in May 2015 its plans to increase spending on diversity initiatives by 30 percent to $150 million.

That was something of a tell for Jon Bischke, CEO of recruiting software platform provider Entelo, an organization that has focused on diversity in recruiting and on inclusion since it was founded in 2011. When he saw the announcement in May, it seemed to him a signal that their year maybe hadn't resulted in as much improvement as they had expected. However, when you consider the size of Google you can see how it would be difficult to make such sweeping changes in such short a timeframe. As of December 31, 2014, Google employed 53,600 people. "It's hard to move the needle that far that fast. It could take years, even a decade," Bischke says.

However, some of the statistics are encouraging. While the overall number of women in technical roles at Google increased by only 1 percent, the company reports that the number of female tech hires they made has increased to 21 percent, and campus outreach programs are delivering results.

"This increase reflects some long-standing investments. For example, in 2010, just 14 percent of the software engineers we hired through our outreach at colleges and universities were women. Since then, we've invested $3 million in Anita Borg Scholarships for women pursuing computer science degrees, and worked to build a community of women in technology. This past year, 22 percent of software engineers hired through campus outreach were women -- more than the percentage of women pursuing CS degrees today. Other signs in the industry are also showing promise; this year 23 percent of attendees at Google I/O were women, up from 20 percent in 2014, and just 8 percent in 2013," according to the official Google blog.

There's also been progress made in recruiting and hiring black and Hispanic talent, though Googlers from these groups still make up just 2 percent and 3 percent of the company, respectively, the company reported.

"Though we still have a long way to go, we're seeing some early progress," Google says in the blog post.

What may be more important than the hard numbers is the fact that conversations around diversity, privilege and inclusiveness are taking place at all, especially in an IT culture as insular as Silicon Valley, according to Bischke. "Their numbers aren't great, but they are at least making these efforts and trying to be extremely transparent about them. You have to give them credit for leading the conversation -- yes, everyone would love to see the numbers increase more quickly, but in the meantime people are looking at these issues in ways they never would have before. Google's setting the bar that not many others were willing to even touch, for what that's worth."

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