The tech industry's diversity movement has been struggling to come to terms with the election of Donald Trump as president, but one tech giant is making an effort to let it be known that its desire for a more inclusive work force has not been diminished. Google, which has been in the vanguard of the movement since day one, is making a fresh effort to attract more individuals from underrepresented backgrounds into its ranks.
"We've always been about providing services for everyone, not for a select few," says Allan Thygesen, Google president of marketing solutions. Diversity "is essential. You cannot service everyone if you don't have that perspective."
Nearly three years ago, Google released its first diversity report, setting off a domino effect that led dozens of other tech companies to follow suit. Since then, Google has continued to release a report on an annual basis, but thus far, the company has had little to show for it. Since 2014, the company's overall representation of blacks and Hispanics has remained unchanged. This has brought the sincerity of Google's diversity efforts into question and under criticism.
But Google hasn't let up on its efforts. Google's leaders know that diversity on their teams -- specifically the inclusion of individuals from underrepresented groups -- is key to its businesses and has a direct impact on its bottom line. The company wants individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to apply for its job openings and feel welcome at the company.
"We fully acknowledge we have work to do and are committed to this work for the long haul," says Thygesen, whose own division features a program designed to help grow women and minority-led businesses that are interested in working with Google. "We hope that by highlighting these folks' accomplishments -- both tangibly as it relates to our bottom line and intangibly as it improves our collective ability understand, embrace, and celebrate our differences -- others like them will see themselves in fulfilling careers at Google."
That is why, earlier this year the company reached out to Inc. in hopes of showing just how exactly diversity creates value for Google and, specifically, how it affects its bottom line. Google gave Inc. access to a handful of its employees. They hail from all portions of the world, ranging from around the U.S. to Nigeria, and they're spread across Google's most important teams.
Thinking in a different spectrum
Born and raised in Mexico City, Alberto Villarreal, the creative lead and industrial design manager for Google's consumer hardware unit, was the lead designer behind the exterior of the Pixel, Google's latest smartphone.
Google released the Pixel in three different colors, "Quite Black, Very Silver, or Really Blue," as they are described online. Often, phone makers release their devices in black and white options, making the Pixel's Really Blue a distinctive offering among handsets. The blue is a bright, joyful, and expressive tone that Villarreal says he believes he chose because of his background growing up in Mexico's culture of colorful and expressively loud art.
"There are people out there who actually want to have more expression. They want to have the phone say something about them," he says. "It's something unique in the market."
The device was released in October and has been off to a fast start, with analysts predicting that the Pixel could provide as much as an additional $4 billion in revenue on top of what Google already brings in.
Villarreal's design of the device -- he and his team crafted everything that you can physically feel on the Pixel -- is key to its success. "Because our phones are used in all these different contexts, we have to really understand different cultures and make sure that our designs are universal enough," he says.
Tapping into emerging markets
This idea of appealing to worldwide markets is one of the key contributions of a diverse work force.
Take Kechy Eke, a technical account manager on the Google technical services team. Eke was raised in Nigeria, and soon after arriving at Google in 2015, she noticed there was a need for a Google employee group focused on Africa.
The group, Africans@Google, has blossomed to nearly 200 members and become a gathering spot for Googlers of African descent. More importantly, Eke says, it serves the company's bottom line as a forum for exploring how best to grow business on the continent, where there are many emerging markets and untapped consumers.
"We have a lot of offices in Africa and a lot of projects going on because that's where we see a lot of growth," says Eke, who wrote papers about the business opportunities in Africa while in college. "It's the next big emerging economy."
Ensuring everyone's safety
Meanwhile, Amber Yust, who was raised in Massachusetts, has used her experiences as a transgender woman to influence her work as an engineering manager on Google's privacy and security team. Yust's role is to ensure users' data, particularly their sensitive information, is kept secure on Google's service.
"You really have to take into account the human element when you're dealing with security, and that is something that you do better when you aren't just thinking about one narrow definition of what the human element is," Yust says. "As a trans individual, I'm very cognizant of how identity works and how people often go about portraying and communicating their identity."
Most notably, Yust was a part of the team that worked on introducing custom genders and pronouns to Google's services in 2014. This was an effort championed by Yust and her peers as a way to ensure that all users felt welcome on Google's services.
"Things like custom genders and pronouns are important in that they are one of those things that many users won't care about, but a small segment of our users base really does care about -- it's a make or break factor," she says. "It may seem small, but when you add up these little things, they grow into a much more broader benefit that improves the platform as a whole."
Positive legacy of an uncertain childhood
"To maximize revenue from a product, you need diversity of people building it," says Howard Sueing, a Google software engineer. "You're shooting yourself in the foot if you don't do that because regardless of how clever you think you are or what Ivy League school you went to, there's some perspective that you don't have or know about."
As a part of Google's privacy and security team, Sueing has contributed to the creation of Google's Transparency reports, which shows users the requests Google gets from the likes of law enforcement and copyright owners. Sueing, who is the global co-chair for the Black Googler Network, has also worked on Google Takeout, the tool that makes it simple for users to download their data, such as their emails, photos, and documents, off of Google's services.
As an African-American man from a low-income socioeconomic background who moved a lot during his childhood, Sueing says he acquired a self-starting, strong work ethic. Sueing worked throughout his high school years, starting as a janitor his sophomore year, to put food on the table for him, his four siblings, and his parents. That fueled him through his academic career, but it has also carried over to his work at Google, where he is often the one driving his teammates to meet deadlines.
"'Hey folks, this is where we are, this is where we need to be, this is how much work we need to do.' I find often that I'm the one guy on the team that has that culture and that perspective," Sueing says. "I've been told by my managers, and praised for it, that this is a super valuable bit that I bring to the team that often results in our launching products on time."