JT felt hopeful about his chances of landing a job at Facebook. The 26-year-old African American man had been referred to the company by a buddy who works there, he has master's degrees in both engineering and business, holds a senior manager role at a major U.S. telecom company, and his interviews with the social network went great, in his estimation.
But as has happened to JT dozens of times when he applies to tech companies, Facebook turned him down. Two weeks later, the social network released its latest diversity report, blaming its lack of diversity on the scarcity of skillfully-trained female and minority candidates.
"To say there is not enough talent out there is like a slap in the face," says JT, whose full name has been omitted to protect his identity. "There are plenty of diverse people in my network alone who have the aptitude and the competitive edge and innovative mentality necessary to be successful at a tech company."
JT's story remains far too common throughout the tech industry, which has talked quite a bit about diversity for the past two years but done very little to hire more women and underrepresented minorities. Silicon Valley earned praise and support in 2014 when numerous companies publicly committed themselves toward building work forces that value equality and people from all walks of life. It was a major milestone. But after two years, the industry has next to nothing to show for its efforts.
Now, many individuals in the tech diversity community find themselves in a state of despair and exasperation, angry at tech companies and questioning the work that they do. The most recent sources of this frustration are Google and Facebook's 2016 diversity reports. Both have failed to increase their representation of Hispanics and African Americans and have made only marginal gains when it comes to women.
"These guys are so innovative, and they're constantly changing the world. Why can't they change this?" asks Everette Taylor, a tech entrepreneur and proponent of the tech diversity movement. "It baffles me."
Some progress has been made, but overall, change has occurred at a glacier's pace. For Silicon Valley, that is unacceptable. Startups that measure growth in single-digit percentages don't get funding. This is the industry that constantly aims to "make the world a better place." These are the companies that use the term "moonshot" literally to describe their ambitions.
"Across the board, it's bad. It's not just engineering. There's still other things that can be done, but they don't want to be innovative," says Angela Benton, CEO of NewME, an accelerator for entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups. "They're being lazy about solving this problem."
More worrisome than the lack of progress is the way these companies are learning to massage the announcement of their annual reports, the excuses they offer for their disappointing results, and the comments they make to temper expectations.
Google kicked off the movement in May 2014 by making a big show out of its first public report and its commitment to diversity. This year, the company made sure its results received as little coverage as possible by waiting until the afternoon of June 30 to release them. That was the Thursday before Fourth of July weekend, and sure enough, little was written about how Google's work force is made up of just 3 percent Hispanics and 2 percent African Americans--unchanged since the first report. Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Facebook, meanwhile, drew ire over comments made by Maxine Williams, the company's global director of diversity. Many have interpreted her words as putting the blame for Facebook's lack of diverse hiring on a lack of talent--a pipeline problem, as tech companies like to say. Williams also spoke with various news outlets and stressed that it will be at least 10 years before any significant change occurs.
"It has become clear that at the most fundamental level, appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system," said Williams in Facebook's 2016 diversity report, released Thursday.
That's a substantially different chord than Williams was sounding in 2014, when she said, "I feel I'm living in a moment where I can get whatever I need to accomplish the goals that I set, and I've lived long enough to know those moments don't last forever and they don't come around all the time, so I have to take advantage of it and keep that momentum going."
A Facebook spokeswoman said Williams's comments were not meant to be a negation of the diverse technical talent that is available today.
The comments come one week after the company put up a huge " Black Lives Matter" sign at its headquarters. "You can say that 'Black Lives Matter,' but not in terms of hiring them," says Melinda Briana Epler, co-founder of Tech Inclusion. "To say that 'There aren't skilled people that we can hire,' it makes me very angry, and it means that they're not really trying very hard."
In any case, to focus only on technical jobs is to ignore a broader pattern. The tech industry's deficit of women and minorities is present in all areas of their businesses, not just in engineering. Hispanics, blacks, and women may not earn as many computer science degrees as other groups, but there is no reason why they should not be hired for roles in sales, marketing, accounting, etc.
"You rarely hear a major tech company cite a dearth of available talent when it comes to hiring for a hot new skill set like virtual reality or robotics. They identify a need and do whatever it takes, including lucrative acquisitions and seven-figure compensation packages," says Sarah Kunst, a proponent of the tech diversity movement and the founder of Proday, a fitness app. "Yet when it comes to diversity, a proven way to increase revenue and profitability, these companies don't seem to be attacking the hiring gap with the same intensity."
This is an industry whose idols--Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg--are college dropouts. It celebrates meritocracy and deplores credentialism, but when it comes to hiring a woman or person of color for a technical role, Silicon Valley erects fences to ensure they don't " lower the bar." It's not enough to have the right degree and a strong résumé. You must also hail from the correct school, have previously worked for a rival company, and preferably already live in California.
"I had somebody tell me that unless you come from these certain schools or these certain four or five companies, you're not going to get a job here," says Taylor, recounting what one product manager at a major private tech company said to him. "They were saying it trying to be helpful. That's just the mindset that these people have."
By saying it will be a decade before change occurs, Williams has dealt a psychological blow to her peers who are working on diversity and to the few minorities and women who are already in the industry.
"Sometimes I feel like maybe it's a fluke that I even made it in, because my friends aren't that different from me," says Martina Abrahams, an African American woman who works at a financial tech company in San Francisco and previously worked at Google.
Abrahams has referred dozens of friends throughout her time in Silicon Valley and has never seen any of them ultimately get hired. She's become more apathetic and pessimistic about the tech diversity movement since it began two years ago, Abrahams says. "We're all really smart, ambitious, capable people. How come I made it in and I can't get any of my friends to come in?"
In their attempts to deflect criticism by redefining the problem or moving the goalposts, Facebook and Google risk discouraging young women and people of color from having ambitions of working for tech. "Why go get a degree in something if you're not going to be able to get a job in it?" Epler says.
The formula the tech industry is using to address diversity is broken. That's what the results show. If they keep going this way, it'll be far longer than 10 years before change occurs. These companies need to reevaluate their strategies and ask themselves if this is something they truly care about.
If it is, they need to change what they're doing. They need to stop treating diversity as a side project where the responsibility is tossed to recruiters and public relations specialists. They need to put their full weight behind the effort. They need to set firm goals and objectives, just as they would for any new project or product.
It's a core tenet in Silicon Valley that the way you manage something is to measure it. It's been two years now that leading tech companies have been quantifying their diversity problem. All they've measured so far is the extent of their failure.