The recent protests against police brutality and systemic racism have driven tech companies to respond in a variety of ways. At some of the largest tech firms, though, one tactic dominates all others: writing a lot of very big checks.
“Today, we’re announcing a multi-year $100 million fund dedicated to amplifying and developing the voices of Black creators and artists and their stories,” read an official blog posting from Susan Wojcicki, who is the CEO of YouTube, which is owned by Google. “Through the month of June, our Spotlight channel will highlight racial justice issues, including the latest perspectives from the Black community on YouTube alongside historical content, educational videos, and protest coverage. This content showcases incredibly important stories about the centuries-long fight for equity.”
YouTube is also focusing on removing videos and comments that promote “hate and harassment.” Meanwhile, Google is granting $12 million to “organizations working to address racial inequalities,” according to a recent blog posting.
Meanwhile, Apple is devoting $100 million to a Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. In a video posted on Twitter, Apple CEO Tim Cook described the initiative as a way to challenge the “systemic barriers” to opportunity for the black community. It will involve partnerships with historically black colleges and universities. At this year’s WWDC, the company will also launch a new program to support black developers.
Then you have PayPal, which plans on devoting $530 million to support “black and minority-owned businesses and communities in the U.S., especially those hardest hit by the pandemic, to help address economic inequality.” The bulk of the money will go to “bolstering the company's relationships with community banks and credit unions serving underrepresented minority communities, as well as investing directly into Black and minority-led startups and minority-focused investment funds.”
Other tech firms are taking a somewhat different approach. IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft, for example, have all vowed to either suspend or outright stop research into facial-recognition technology, which critics have argued could end up abused by law enforcement. “IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” new IBM CEO Arvind Krishna wrote in a June 8letter to Congress.
However, many of these firms (and the tech industry in general) have quite a long way to go in order to make their technical workforces most diverse. According to the latest edition of Stack Overflow’s Developer Survey, which queried 38,257 professional developers about their race and ethnicity, people of color made up a relatively small percentage of the overall developer community:
Although many tech companies have very publicly pledged to improve their talent pipelines to create more diverse workforces, a breakdown from Wired showed that, over a five-year period, the percentages of black and Latinx workers at some firms barely budged, despite those modified HR practices and talent pipelines. While companies have pledged to refine their pipelines still further (and are devoting lots of resources to broader issues of racism), some have work to do when it comes to actually following through on diversifying their workforces.