Dear Silicon Valley: Diversity is Needed at the Pace of Innovation

The pace of mobile innovation in the United States is growing at a staggering rate. According to Cisco, over 24 million smartphones were added to mobile networks last year alone. That increase helped bring the total number of connected mobile devices in our country to 447 million - a number that is expected to more than double by 2020, just a few years from now.

Despite the nation's rapid growth in mobile technologies, however, the pace of diversity and inclusion at large technology companies remains at a virtual standstill.

It is no secret that Silicon Valley has a checkered history when it comes to promoting a workforce reflective of the country. Search giant Google's recently published diversity numbers continue to tell the same underwhelming story. In a blog post oddly titled, "Focusing on diversity" the company boasts 1% increases in African American, Hispanic, and female hires as "progress." However, as coverage of the new data points out, the overall percent of non-white employees didn't change.

In response to these negligible margins, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson aptly stated in USA Today, "If they can build driverless cars, certainly they can crack the code to expand inclusion."

While Google is surely one of the most notable Silicon Valley companies, it is not alone in egregious hiring practices. Last year both Facebook and Twitter reported African American and Hispanic employment at under 5% -- with Twitter only having 49 African Americans in its U.S. workforce.

These low figures have a debilitating impact on diverse communities around the country. A recent poll from Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies' Cornell Belcher and Mobile Future finds that half of the African Americans who were surveyed do not know a single person who works in the tech industry. In addition, there is a profound disparity between those who see mobile technology as a consumer tool versus a tool for economic empowerment. This disparity is not due to lack of effort however - African Americans and Hispanics around the country graduate from computer science and computer engineering programs at twice the rate that large technology firms hire them.

As the marquee developers, disrupters, and job creators in the tech sector, Silicon Valley simply needs to be held accountable.

Like most things tech, innovation is needed to solve this problem - and quickly. By 2040, the nation's cultural and racial make-up will be significantly different than it is now. The millennial and "post-millennial" generations are bringing about a more diverse America as more than a third of them identify as two or more races. As their purchasing power increases, so does minority purchasing power. Without real efforts to change its ways, Silicon Valley is at risk of losing the next generation of talented developers, entrepreneurs, and innovators who could lead to the next iPhone, Snapchat, or Uber.

Further, as the Internet of Things become the new normal in our society, it is important to remember that the pace of diversity must keep up with the pace of innovation. CODE2040 CEO Laura Weidman Powers recently wrote that diversity is about more than just "moving the needle" but ensuring that women and underrepresented minorities have the opportunities to brainstorm and develop the innovative products being fostered in Silicon Valley for years to come.

President Obama has echoed this sentiment too. As recently as a few weeks ago, the White House touted that over 30 companies pledged to make the technology workforce more inclusive and representative of the American people. Efforts like this and the Congressional Black Caucus' Tech 2020 Initiative should be praised as steps in the right direction, but we also need to watch them to make sure intentions come to fruition.

Even with all of the positive rhetoric, calls for promises, and pledges, however, stagnant numbers indicate serves as a visceral reminder that there is still much work left to be done.

Jeremy White is head of DiverseTech and a former special assistant at the White House.