Adding Up the Asian Equation at Google

First, let’s point out the obvious. Anyone who doesn’t think Google is a huge engine of innovation in the world is smoking crack.

Now, let’s ask a tough question: Do we expect Google to keep kicking out constant innovation with a workforce that exactly matches what America looks like?

That’s what we call leading the witness, or a trap question. Google recently released its workforce diversity numbers, with the results causing some to say it is struggling from a diversity perspective.

You be the judge. Here are your overall, companywide diversity stats from the Googleplex: 70 percent male and 30 percent female; 61 percent white, 30 percent Asian, 4 percent two or more races, 3 percent Latino and 2 percent black. Oh, and 100 percent are nerds (I made the last one up, but it’s probably close).

Are those statistics alarming? I think not. James Carville once famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” To paraphrase, the quote would be, “It’s math and science degrees, stupid.”

People who chase math and science get rewarded with careers at companies like Google.

If Google can’t have diversity that matches a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chart of America, it can take pride in being diverse via a workforce that’s 30 percent Asian. The free hand of the market has touched Google with the only diversity it could find, which is different than the standard definition of diversity in America.

As you would expect, Google is writing checks to show good-faith efforts toward finding the traditional diversity mix we’ve come to expect. 

They’ve given more than $40 million to organizations working to bring computer science education to women and girls, and have been focused on doing the same with historically black colleges and universities.

Of course, good-faith efforts will only go so far if the advanced metrics look bleak. For example, women earn roughly 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the U.S.

Additionally, blacks and Latinos each make up under 10 percent of U.S. college grads, and each collects fewer than 10 percent of degrees in computer science majors. 

Houston, we have a problem.

The deeper issue with the EEOC reporting is this: The Asian category is dominating any job classification where math and science chops are the rule rather than the exception.

That domination underscores the brutal reality that at the bleeding-edge of our economy, detailed EEOC statistics by job class don’t tell the true story of what’s available in the labor market for companies like Google.

Traditional EEOC statistics are constructed by combining large classes of jobs into pools. Take a bunch of IT careers and put them together, and EEOC statistics tell you what’s generally available in the labor market by gender and race.

What EEOC statistics don’t take into account is the relative readiness of our workforce to work at what some would call the top end of our economy — companies like Google and the organizations that support and compete against it.

It’s not a question of what’s available within an affirmative action job group, it’s that the overall definition of the job group many times doesn’t fit the reality of the market.

If careers at Google are what we want for our kids, we probably need to take a look at the various nationalities that comprise the Asian category and figure out what they are doing right — especially as they attend U.S. schools — to prep their kids for this type of work.

My kids? They’re smart and actually good at math and science, but there are a couple of Asian kids that are the Michael Jordan and Larry Bird of math at their school.

One of my sons was on the college bowl team at his school for the stuff that didn’t involve math. When a math question came up, all the other kids (of varying nationalities) took their hand off the buzzer and just looked at the Asian kid I’ll call “MJ” as to say, “You’ve got this one.”

MJ’s going to work at Google. He’s already recognized by his peers as being the man related to math. His family has done the work and created an environment where his skills are nurtured, and it’s expected he’s going to excel in math.

I’m looking at the Google diversity numbers and resisting the urge to wag the finger. Keep on crushing product and eroding our overall privacy, Google. I’ll give you a golf clap for the good-faith efforts to build a more diverse math and science pipeline, knowing that those numbers don’t represent the real story.

More importantly, I’ll give a knowing nod to the EEOC classification that is really crushing it in those numbers — the many nationalities that comprise the powerful category of “Asian.”

This article originally appeared in Diversity Executive's sister publication, Workforce.