What Google did took courage.
Two weeks ago, the tech giant revealed demographic statistics about its workforce and in doing so exposed a sore point that many knew existed but didn’t talk about much, especially in public. Google reported that of its 26,600-person workforce, 61 percent are white and 70 percent are men.
Those are staggering statistics for a global company with headquarters in California, a state where minorities are now the majority. The numbers are disappointing for the San Francisco Bay Area where women outnumber men.
According to an Associated Press article, Google's head of personnel Lazlo Bock told 'PBS Newshour,' “Google is miles from where we want to be.” Bock noted that diversity is lacking among students studying computer science or other technical fields creating a so-called pipeline problem.
But his comments went even deeper. Bock talked about Google’s “unconscious biases” in hiring. He said, “We like people who are like us who watch the same shows, who like the same food, who have the same backgrounds.” Publically admitting to “unconscious bias” took courage.
And that started me thinking about our own industry. Is the same problem is happening in our own stations, in our own newsrooms?
According to the last RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey published last year, the diversity picture in TV and radio news follows Google’s pattern. The study noted that in the previous 23 years, the minority population in the U.S. had jumped almost 11%, but minority representation in TV and radio news rose about 4%. The survey found that 79% of the workforce in TV news was white. In radio the number is even higher at 89%. Correspondingly, 87% of TV News Directors were white; radio 90%. Looking at gender, the study showed that 70% of TV News Directors are men. In radio, 80% are men.
These numbers make a good case that there is “unconscious bias” in our newsrooms.
Several years ago I was asked to make a presentation at a corporate meeting about hiring a diverse workforce. The room was filled with senior and mid-level managers, many of them news people. I used this simple interactive exercise to get the conversation going:
- Assume you have a position to fill in your department, one step down from your own position.
- Now, take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle.
- In the left column, list the names of the 2 or 3 people you would like to hire for that position. These should be people who come to mind quickly, maybe someone you’ve been tracking for a while.
- In the right column, list the names of the 2 or 3 people you would call to see if they have candidates you should consider. Making this list should take even less time. These people are your “touchstones” – your professional friends, your sources.
Now, let’s look at those names. What color do you see? What gender? More importantly, do they look like you? If they do, don’t be surprised or apologetic. You are just being human.
It’s human nature to be attracted to those with whom you feel comfortable. When it comes to hiring, like Google’s Bock said, “We like people who are like us.” When we are interviewing the next hire, we are bound to like the person who is most like us. It’s just human.
But if we are going to break through unconscious bias, we need to work against our nature. Recruit and hire people who are not like you and understand that differences will enrich your newsroom and your newscasts. Find new “touchstones”, the sources you go to when you are looking to widen your pool of job candidates. These touchstones need to be people who know people who are not like you. Then keep an open mind and look for possibilities. Someone who is not like you may be the catalyst you need to take your operation to a new level.
If you can break through unconscious bias, you can go ahead and exclaim, “Yahoo!"