Google was recently in the news for an unusual reason that again opened up the debate on diversity or lack of it in the US tech sector. The current controversy seems to involve only Indian and Hindu employees of Google. But if you scratch the surface, you can easily see the lack of Blacks and Latinos in the American tech sector. Asian Americans are vastly over-represented at Google and as we are seeing in the recent controversy, they are impacting diversity initiatives of the company.
According to a recent Washington Post report, seven of Google’s Indian origin employees opposed an in-house talk on caste by Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder and executive director of Equality Labs. Employees opposing this talk cited strange reasons like how they “felt harmed” and that their “lives will be at risk by the discussion of caste equity.” Soon, these views were spread in an internal email group of 8,000 South Asian employees, where most of the respondents opposed holding the event.
Google finally decided not to hold the talk, leading to the resignation of Tanuja Gupta, Google News senior manager, who had taken the initiative to organise the talk. Responding to the controversy, Google’s chief diversity officer, Melonie Parker said that “a large group of employees felt that they were being vilified. And this resulted in a lot of internal concern, heated threads, as well as escalations.”
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What diversity reports tell us
This is an ongoing controversy, but what it clearly tells is that Google’s Indian origin employees lack caste diversity. Any discussion on caste exclusion and discrimination has been an enigma for many of the upper caste people. Incidentally, this is the rationale offered by those who oppose caste enumeration in the Indian Census. That seeing caste will lead to casteism and caste hatred.
We don’t know much about the diversity or lack of it among Google’s Asian or Indian origin workforce because the tech giant doesn’t make all details public. In Google Diversity Report, Asians are one social group. But Google’s Diversity Report for the year 2022 provides some other interesting insights.
Data shows that 48.3 per cent of the Google employees in the US are White. Second largest group in Google is the Asians who constitute 43.2 per cent employees. There are 6.9 per cent Latinos, 5.3 per cent Blacks and 0.8 per cent Native American employees in the company.
This clearly shows that the Blacks and the Latinos are grossly underrepresented in Google workforce. According to the US census report, there are 18.7 per cent Latinos and 12.1 per cent Blacks in the US population. Non-Hispanic White population in the US is 57.8 per cent and their representation in the Google workforce is slightly less. The stark contrast is in the case of the Asians, who constitute around six per cent of the US population but constitute more than 43 per cent of the employees, which is seven times their population share.
Is Asian over-representation unique to Google? Let’s check the diversity report of another tech giant Facebook, now known as Meta. According to the latest report, 39.1 per cent of Facebook employees in the US are White. Asians are the largest group with 45.7 per cent share in the workforce. Facebook has only 4.4 per cent black employees and most of them are in non-tech fields. Same is the case with Latinos with only 6.5 per cent share in the workforce.
In Microsoft, only 5.7 per cent employees in the US are Blacks and 7 per cent are Latinos, whereas 35.4 per cent are Asians. Same is the case with Intel. Apple is the only exception among big tech companies, where Black and Latino representation is better at 9.4 per cent and 14.8 per cent respectively.
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Dodging the diversity pledge
Vast over-representation of Asian Americans and vast under-representation of African Americans and Latinos at tech companies has been a subject of discussion for long. And the American media has highlighted this issue, even dedicating cover stories featuring Black tech CEOs. Reverend Jesse Jackson, head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, raised this issue in 1999. He had criticised US tech companies for importing tech workers from abroad and neglecting qualified workers from American minority communities. After relentless fighting by the black community leaders, tech companies agreed to publish their diversity reports. Google published its first diversity report in 2014. Diversity data was so bad for Microsoft that it pledged to double the number of Black and African American and Hispanic and Latinx people managers, senior individual contributors, and senior leaders in the US by 2025.
It seems that the tech companies tried to dodge their diversity pledge by recruiting Asian American in large numbers and thus showing that they are not White dominated. If we see racism as a binary of White and non-White, then it works fine. But like the caste system, racism is also a system of graded inequality. Collaboration of the Whites and the browns to keep the blacks as permanent bottom was predicted by Isabel Wilkerson, author of bestseller Caste: The origin of our Discontent. She argues that “around 2040 when the non-Hispanic White majority will probably disappear, the whites will rush to co-opt insecure mid-caste non-Whites — ethnic groups who have profited from affirmative-action programs that the Blacks fought for.” It seems that such a process has already started.
Wilkerson has a rationale for thinking so. She wrote that “If you are insecurely situated somewhere in the middle—below the very top but above the very bottom—you may distance yourself from the bottom and hold up barriers against those you see as below you to protect your own position.” This is how the Indian upper caste Hindus, who are otherwise quite aggressive and hostile to defend their generationally accumulated positions in India, metamorphosed themselves into “Model Minority” in the US. She predicted the Browns as future collaborators of the Whites in perpetuating the American ‘caste system’, in which the Blacks will remain as the permanent bottom. Similarly, Frank B. Wilderson III, in his book Afropessimism, said that the middle castes (Browns) will become “junior partners” in White supremacy.
It appears that as diversity and affirmative action became a moral project, also pushed by the federal government and many states, the US companies recruited Asian American in large numbers so that their diversity goals of employing non-Whites were fulfilled. Because the Blacks fought for equal rights and abolition of slavery and Jim Crow, they are seen as aggressive and belligerent. This makes Indians good non-Whites.
Worst, Indians are opposing the slightest attempt to democratise workplaces. Google may be just one example.
Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has written books on media and sociology. He tweets @Profdilipmandal. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)