Google's New Diversity Chief to Tackle Slow Pace of Change

By Yoree Koh Features Dow Jones Newswires

Google's workforce continues to look pretty much the same as previous years, according to its annual diversity report published Thursday, a sign of the task awaiting its newly named head of diversity.

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Google said Thursday that women made up 31% of its employees last year, the same percentage as the previous year's report. It barely moved the needle on other fronts: the percentage of black employees was unchanged at 2%, and the number of Hispanic workers increased by 1 percentage point, to 4%. The majority of Google workers remain white and Asian men.

Google declined to disclose the size of its workforce. Its parent company, Alphabet Inc., employed 72,000 workers in December 2016.

The slow progress in hiring and retaining more underrepresented groups and women underscores the challenges ahead for Danielle Brown, who was introduced as Google's new head of diversity on Thursday. Ms. Brown, who joins from Intel Corp., replaces Nancy Lee, who left the company in February.

Google acknowledges the lack of progress in diversifying the makeup of its workforce. "More than other industries, the technology sector is extremely open about its challenges in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. We all welcome the conversation and the scrutiny; it helps us raise the bar in terms of this important work and our commitment to it," Eileen Naughton, vice president of people operations, said in a blog post.

The struggles at Google represent the difficulty facing the tech industry overall, which has struggled to balance out its workforce with people of different backgrounds. Equality advocates contend that diverse perspectives are essential to creating products destined for a global population.

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The reasons for the problem vary from a tendency to recruit from a handful of name-brand schools such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a propensity to hire from one's social circles, an interview process that doesn't favor minority candidates and gaps in the promotion process, according to industry experts.

Google has attempted to improve on some of these fronts. This summer, it welcomed a couple dozen students from Howard University to study computer science at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters and learn from Google engineers as part of an effort to forge relationships with historically black colleges.

Retaining employees is also crucial. The company said that it is working to make the workplace more welcoming through communication channels such as town halls and employee-resource groups.

There are a few bright spots in the report. Women now account for 20% of tech positions and a quarter of the leadership positions at Google are filled by women, a 1 percentage point increase for both from last year.

Technical roles, however, continue to be the hardest for underrepresented groups to break into. Just 1% of the company's technical roles are filled by blacks and 3% are filled by Hispanics -- both figures the same compared with the previous year.

Write to Yoree Koh at yoree.koh@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 29, 2017 18:10 ET (22:10 GMT)