Technology and Nude Pantyhose: Time for Color Correction
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Google and Facebook released their diversity numbers last week. Few with any connection to the tech industry were shocked. Color is nearly nonexistent. Hispanics have a slight edge (4% at Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn; 3% at Google) while African-Americans represent a mere 2% of these companies across the board, as reported in USA Today. The numbers were similarly dismal for women. LinkedIn reported the highest percentage of women at 39%; Facebook just 31%. Would these percentages change if women simply leaned in? Doubtful. When analysts break down the numbers by positions it’s even uglier as minorities and women are nearly absent from both professional and technical positions.
Looking for parity in tech is like shopping for pantyhose or foundation as a woman of color. There’s a single shade called nude, apparently designed to look most like the natural legs. If you’re darker than a paper bag (or even slightly lighter) there’s no way nude works for you. The same thing goes for makeup. Actress Thandie Newton made headlines by challenging the beauty industry to address the ‘ghettoization’ of products for women of color. The assumption that a single color of the lightest shade provides a clean, classic look for everyone doesn’t work in fashion and beauty, though. After decades of advances, the industry hasn’t color corrected itself.
Will the tech industry take as long?
Sarah Jeong’s article in the guardian does a brilliant job of highlighting specific cases of accidental color correction as a result of tech advances, as in the case of Uber (there’s a reason Branford Marsalis wrote a song called Brother Trying to Catch a Cab.) She cites the Clinton Yates 2012 Washington Post article in which Yates begs the D.C. City Council to keep the service that has changed his traveling life.
The title of the article explains how tech alley could offer answer to many questions regarding cultural disparity should it take a look in the mirror: “Technology could ‘disrupt’ racism and sexism – if Silicon Valley Disrupts itself.” Unfortunately, as Jeong also points out, critical and costly product missteps can occur due to lack of diversity in development and testing. Should the industry take the lead and put some of those profit dollars into opening the pipeline, not only would the demographics look better, but the graphics would, too.
Color Correction FAIL Story
Just one brother or sister in the room might have changed a million dollar correction issue for Hewlett Packard. Watch the video below for an example of how the HP webcam failed to detect dark faces.