Friday, October 30, 2020

Google lays out a spate of changes designed to diversify its management, its products, and startups

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As the world awakens to the many ways that people of color are systematically discriminated against, companies whose future depends on their ability to address their own role in this entrenched societal issue are taking some action.

For its part, following weeks of protests around the U.S. and world to defeat racism, Alphabet just announced a number of related promises as part of its commitment to “translating the energy of this moment into lasting, meaningful change.”

Some of these are softer than others — some are internal while others are external — but they’re collectively designed to pack a punch.

Among the most notable of these new commitments is a stated goal of improving leadership representation of underrepresented groups within the corporate colossus to 30 percent by 2025. Toward that end, writes Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Google will “post senior leadership roles externally as well as internally, and increase our investments in places such as Atlanta, Washington DC, Chicago, and London, where we already have offices. We’ll take the same approach across regions . . . and hire more underrepresented Googlers in communities where the social infrastructure already supports a sense of belonging and contributes to a better quality of life.”

Alphabet is also promising to “do more to address representation challenges and focus on hiring, retention, and promotion at all levels,” including via a “new talent liaison within each product and functional area to mentor and advocate for the progression and retention of Googlers from underrepresented groups.”

Whether this placates Googlers would be interesting to know, given the pressure that the company has been under for years to diversify — and the seemingly sluggish pace at which it has moved on this front.

According to Google’s most recent diversity report, 67.5% of its employees are male, which is down only so slightly from the 69.3% of men who made up the company in 2014. Meanwhile, just 3.5% of its tech employees are Black, compared with 2% in 2014. (It has more than 120,000 employees today; it had 53,000 in 2014.)

Alphabet will also focus increasingly on creating “products and programs that help Black users in the moments that matter most,” writes Pichai. These could be interesting. Among the products in the pipeline is a way to give merchants in the U.S. the option of adding a opt-in “Black-owned” business attribute to their business profile on Google to help people find and support Black-owned local businesses by using Search and Maps.

As for some of the external commitments that Pichai just announced, the company says it has put together an increased financial package meant to support Black business owners, startup founders, and employees.

While Alphabet last week announced a $100 million fund tied to its YouTube subsidiary to amplify Black creators and artists, Pichai today revealed a new, separate, $175 million commitment that includes $50 million in financing and grants for small businesses and $100 million in funding participation in Black-led capital firms, startups and organizations supporting Black entrepreneurs.

According to Pichai, this specifically includes increasing Alphabet’s investment in Plexo Capital, whose founder, Lo Toney, we interviewed last week. (Asked for more information about this capital commitment, Toney tells us he “cannot comment at this time.”)

Alphabet is also investing a smaller amount ($15 million) in job training through the National Urban League, among other partners, and $10 million to “help improve the Black community’s access to education, equipment and economic opportunities in our developer ecosystem, and increase equity, representation and inclusion across our developer platforms, including Android, Chrome, Flutter, Firebase, Google Play and more.” (It isn’t clear from Pichai’s announcement how this will work.)

These are, of course, small dollar amounts for one of the most powerful companies on the planet, and the efforts will invariably be seen by critics of the company’s extensive power (and balance sheet) as not going far enough.

Indeed, though Pichai notes that Google.org this month pledged $12 million to advance criminal justice reform, he notes that the company had previously contributed $32 million to the cause over the previous five-year period, dating back to the 2015 Charleston shooting in which nine African Americans were killed during a Bible study.

It’s very possible that the programs to which it contributes can’t effectively absorb the capital faster, but nevertheless, it’s not a jaw-dropping amount to highlight. Consider that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings alone announced today that he and his wife will donate $120 million to support scholarships at historically black colleges and universities, including Spelman College, Morehouse College and the United Negro College Fund. That’s what’s called leaning in.

You can find more on Alphabet’s newest initiatives here.

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