We Found the Leak In Your Pipeline

March 14, 2016 Tech Diversity

A look at 2014 undergraduate computer science degrees awarded by institutions may reveal why blacks are underrepresented at tech companies.

Each year the National Center For Education Statistics (NCES) releases data on colleges and universities located in the United States. Data available through NCES includes student demographics for each school and degrees awarded. We took a look at the data to see how collegiate institutions stacked up in producing black graduates in the fields of computer science*. 

In 2014, 9.8% of all computer science degrees, at the bachelor’s level, went to black graduates. In raw numbers alone, blacks are the largest minority group that received computer science degrees. But were still slightly underrepresented in comparison to being 13% of the US population.
Schools that produced the greatest number of black computer science graduates were online universities. University of Maryland University College (UMUC) awarded 251 computer science degrees to blacks in 2014. That year, blacks represented 23% of the UMUC graduating computer science class. In comparison, the average percentage for most universities was 10% and the median was 7%.

American universities and colleges as a whole are producing black technical professionals (by degree). However, currently only 1% of technical roles at Facebook, Twitter, and Google are filled by blacks.

We don’t hire from lesser universities

In 2015, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet (formerly named Google Inc), was a guest speaker for the Stanford CS183 Blitzscaling class. During the interview, Eric Schmidt was asked about hiring practices during the early days of Google. His response was, “…Another rule was not to hire people from ‘lesser’ universities.”

Although, Schmidt isn’t explicit in what is meant by “lesser” universities, his response aligns with commonly held beliefs in tech recruiting. One common belief is that online universities are not quality education programs. Outside of school ranking lists produced by the U.S. News and World Report company, there is no data available to support the general quality or lack of quality at online universities.

Another common belief is that the best computer science recruits graduate from nationally ranked programs such as Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, University of California – Berkeley, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This belief is linked to the large numbers of alumni from these schools working at and founding tech companies. Schmidt, himself, is an alum of UC – Berkeley. Based on these previous successful hires and alumni affiliations, tech companies often prefer to recruit from the aforementioned schools. But, a look at the number of computer science degrees awarded to blacks from these schools reveal why blacks remain underrepresented at top tech companies.

UniversityBerkeleyUrbana-ChampaignMITCarnegie MellonStanford
% of cs degrees awarded to blacks0.52%0.84%8.30%0.55%0.95%

Patching Up the Leaks

Companies need to reevaluate their recruiting strategies if they want to reach the goals of greater diversity. Recruiting from the same set of schools as in the past will not solve the problem. Instead companies will have to go to new schools and stop hiring from their alma maters.

To ensure that an eye for diversity is cultivated and applied, selection processes will also have to change. The selection process for new talent will have to be evaluated in a way that doesn’t simply compare it to what talent looked like in the past. We all have blind spots shaped by past experiences. For example, an interview process that was designed by a Stanford grad and has been used to identify talent at Stanford may be unintentionally biased to the the benefit of other candidates from Stanford. The goal is not to lower the bar, but to change the lens through which talent is found. 

Lastly, the tech community will have to recognize that there is no meritocracy in a system where blacks are fairly represented in the talent pool, but severely underrepresented (or non-existent) in the pool where companies recruit.

Thanks to Morten Lundsby Jensen, Dwayne Reeves, Darell Austin, Jr, Antonio McMichael, and Clyon Jackson for reading drafts of this.


*For this report, degrees awarded makes reference to first bachelor degrees awarded in 2014 that are classified under NCES classification instructional program code 11: COMPUTER AND INFORMATION SCIENCES AND SUPPORT SERVICES  https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/cipdetail.aspx?y=55&cipid=88073

Facebook’s Diversity Stats https://about.fb.com/news/2015/06/driving-diversity-at-facebook/

Google’s Diversity Stats https://diversity.google/

Twitter’s Diversity Stats https://blog.twitter.com/official/en_us/a/2014/building-a-twitter-we-can-be-proud-of.html

Apple’s Diversity Stats https://www.apple.com/diversity/

The Schools Where Apple, Google, And Facebook Get Their Recruits https://www.wired.com/2014/05/alumni-network-2/

The top feeder schools to Google, Goldman Sachs, and more https://poetsandquantsforundergrads.com/2015/01/07/the-top-feeder-schools-to-google-goldman-sachs-and-more/