On Wednesday, Google released statistics on the company's workforce demographics, revealing that, out of its more than 46,000 employees, 61 percent are white and 70 percent are men.
The Internet immediately reacted. Google was simultaneously patted on the back for going public with its workplace makeup (a step other major tech companies including Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have refused to take) and reprimanded for its results.
But the truth is a bit more complex. If you take a closer look at the numbers, Google is actually less white than the overall U.S. labor force. Sixty-six percent of the overall U.S. labor force is white, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2012 figures. At Google, that number is 61 percent.
Of course, one statistic does not a complete picture make. Blacks and Hispanics are significantly underrepresented at Google, making up just 2 percent and 3 percent of the company's workforce, respectively. That's compared with 11 percent and 16 percent of the general U.S. labor force. On the other hand, Asians represent 30 percent of Google employees and only 5 percent of the overall labor force.
This doesn't mean that we don't have to have a tough, thorny conversation about why non-Asian minorities and women continue to be underrepresented in the tech industry (women only make up 30 percent of Google employees, a percentage that shrinks to 17 and 21, respectively, when you break the company down into tech and leadership sectors), but it's important to look at the bigger picture.
Laszlo Bock, Google's senior vice president of people operations, acknowledged in a blog post that "we're not where we want to be when it comes to diversity," before explaining why that's not entirely Google's fault:
"There are lots of reasons why technology companies like Google struggle to recruit and retain women and minorities. For example, women earn roughly 18 percent of all computer science degrees in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics make up under 10 percent of U.S. college grads and collect fewer than 5 percent of degrees in CS majors, respectively. So we’ve invested a lot of time and energy in education."
He raises a fair point: women and non-Asian minorities are simply not pursuing careers in tech. Only 18.5 percent of high school students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science last year were girls and in two states, not a single female, African American or Hispanic student took the exam at all. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that only 0.4 percent of female college freshmen say they intend to major in this field. And while 20 percent of software developers are women, according to the BLS, that number may be dwindling as the percentage of women in computer science has fallen in recent years.