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Venture Capitalist Says Tech Companies Are Diverse Because White People Have Different European Backgrounds

Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen CREDIT: AP/PAUL SAKUMA
Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen CREDIT: AP/PAUL SAKUMA

Marc Andreessen, who invented one of the first internet browsers and co-founded Netscape, said in a long interview with Kevin Roose of New York Magazine on Monday that while he think the discussion of diversity in technology is valid, the companies being called out for homogeneity aren’t “deliberately, systematically discriminatory.”

As proof, he pointed out that they hire a large percentage of Asians and that the white people come from different European backgrounds:

No. 1, these companies are like the United Nations internally. All the diversity studies say that the engineering population is like 70 percent white and Asian. Let’s dig into that for a second. First, apparently Asian doesn’t count as diverse. And then “white”: When you actually go in these companies, what you find is it’s American people, but it’s also Russians, and Eastern Europeans, and French, and German, and British. And then there are the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Indonesians, and Vietnamese. All these different countries, all these different cultures.

He went on to say that companies are “desperate for talent,” so the reason that people of color make up such a small share of technology company employees is because of a lack of educational opportunities — in other words, not enough skilled people of color in the pipeline — and because some people are excluded from the networks that would help them get hired.

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When asked if the same things apply to gender diversity, he responded, “Yeah, same thing.” Speaking of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, he said, “I think the big message of the book is people can take control of their own destiny to a greater extent than they believe.” And he again pointed to education as the reason that companies that are supposedly desperate to hire can’t find more women. “There aren’t enough Stanford graduates to go around. How many science undergrads does Stanford produce a year? Five hundred? Six hundred? And then we go up to Berkeley and it’s like another 2,000. It’s not enough.”

On people of color, Andreessen’s numbers don’t appear to be right. According to a USA Today analysis, “Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them.” Black people make up 2 percent of tech employees at the companies that recently released their diversity numbers and Hispanic people account for 3 percent. Yet they received 4.5 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively, of new bachelor’s degrees in computer science or engineering from prestigious universities and 9 percent of computer science degrees from all universities.

Women are less likely to graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) than from college in general, but still make up 41 percent of those graduates. Yet they make up less than a quarter of technical employees at the eight firms that have released diversity data.

Tech companies may feel desperate for talent, but they are ignoring lots of educated people. Women and black people with advanced STEM degrees are more likely to end up with jobs outside the field than men and people of other races. Just 16 percent of white men end up outside the field.

And while Andreessen may think there isn’t any systematic discrimination going on, some tech executives have recently made comments that hint otherwise. IBM executives were overheard saying they don’t hire young women “because they just get pregnant again and again.” Evan Thornley, an Australian tech executive, bragged to a conference that he hired talented women “relatively cheap” because of the gender wage gap. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella indicated that he prefers to work with women who don’t ask for raises, although he has since apologized. Women have also come forward about having to put up with sexual harassment. Bias creeps up in a research setting as well, as people are twice as likely to hire a man for a math job as a woman.