Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/Flickr
Though Silicon Valley is regarded as one of the most affluent productive economic centers on the planet – it is hard to imagine a more generic landscape.
Wall Street – that other great American economic hub – is situated in the downtown of the densest most bustling cultural center in the United States.
In contrast much of Silicon Valley looks like any affluent American suburb: Wide-set streets lined with deciduous trees – cookie-cutter tract houses – generic strip malls populated by corporate franchises – an anemic public transit system – vast parking lots and six-lane expressways.
Local critic Rebecca Solnit once wrote that ‘finding the landscape of Silicon Valley isn’t as easy as getting lost among the subdivisions and freeway exits and industrial parks’.
Indeed Silicon Valley is a great place to raise a car.
Many of the most valuable tech companies in the world squirrel themselves away in bland industrial parks – surrounded by asphalt and manicured trees — a far cry from the towering skyscrapers that house America’s industrial titans in cities like Chicago – New York – and Philadelphia.
This stretch of car-choked suburbia – extending from South San Francisco to Cupertino – is home to some of the most celebrated whiz-kid capitalists of our generation: Apple’s Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) – Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – Tesla’s Elon Musk – Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison all built their fortunes driving up and down the 101 freeway that runs along the axis of this region – whose epicenter sits appropriately at Stanford University.
If you’re familiar with the billionaires listed above you might notice something peculiar: most of them are white.
This is not random chance: Silicon Valley produces a lot of wealth but the spoils are directed towards those who resemble these people culturally and ethnically – 70% of the tech industry is male.
At the four biggest tech companies Hispanics and blacks only make up 9% of the workforce.
And throughout the whole industry women tend to make a lot less than men: in fact the gender pay gap in Silicon Valley is much worse than it is in the country at large.
All tech companies speak enthusiastically and often about ‘diversity’ and the need for diversity and yet it seems perpetually as if the Valley’s diversity problem is incapable of being solved by a few well-planned corporate initiatives.
That’s because there are historical reasons for the composition and exclusion of certain castes of people in Silicon Valley and these reasons date back to when Northern California was first settled by Europeans.