The numbers don’t lie: out of seven tech industry giants including Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Yahoo among others, Apple and eBay tied for first place in the diversity category with a “whopping” 7% of their workforce identifying as African-American. None of the other five companies were able to report data that included more than 2% of African-Americans in the workplace. I can remember my time as a STEM professional in corporate America not seeing many faces that looked like mine, and it seems like not much has changed in this startup era. A lot has been made of this issue of late, due in no small part to the efforts of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. and his Rainbow PUSH coalition. The organization was instrumental in getting Twitter to release its EEO-1 workforce data earlier this year. Jackson also led a delegation to the annual shareholder’s meeting at Hewlett-Packard back in March to address diversity concerns, and has been making his rounds throughout the Valley to encourage other tech companies to revisit their hiring practices. I had the opportunity to speak to Rev. Jackson recently about his Digital Inclusion Initiative, and what he hopes to accomplish in Silicon Valley.
EBONY: Why have you taken up the banner of increasing diversity in tech companies, specifically in Silicon Valley, at this time?
Rev. Jackson: We felt that it was time to expand our Silicon Valley work because it’s the fastest growing industry in the world, and we are over indexing in purchasing those products, but under indexing in having (people of color on) the board of directors, in C-suites, in jobs. The second part of that is there is an impression that Silicon Valley is off-limits for American justice. The fact is that 70% of the jobs in Silicon Valley are not high tech in the first place – legal work, advertising, marketing, services, building construction. The third thing, that I think is very important, is that rather than hire Black and brown people, they’re lobbying for more (H-1B) workers from Asia and pay them less to do the same jobs. They should not be getting more visa options to train people abroad to work when there are those of us at home who buy their products.
EBONY: What do you say to the argument that there is no Black talent to be found in Silicon Valley?
RJ: The fact of the matter is that the successor to Bill Gates, (chairman of the board) John Thompson is African-American. The man who wrote the incorporation papers for Google, David Drummond is African-American. There is no job in Silicon Valley we cannot do, absolutely nothing.
EBONY: How do you respond to critics that call this a Silicon Valley “shakedown?”
Rev. Jackson: No, it’s a shake-up! It is reasonable to demand two-way trade. It’s unreasonable not to demand two-way trade. If we buy from them and they don’t buy from us, that’s one-way trade, and it’s economic suicide.
EBONY: What are next steps in the initiative?
RJ: We’re in the first stages of the initiative right now, focusing on doing the research. But we must now go beyond research to set goals, targets, and timetables based on how much of their product we purchase. We want to build a pipeline between HBCU’s and Silicon Valley to begin to increase our visibility there. Apple, under CEO Tim Cook, was the first to come out publicly and admit that there was a lot of room for improvement when it comes to hiring. We need all of the tech companies to do the same. We are having a caucus out there in the latter part of September to further expose the fact that there are Black lawyers, ad agencies, marketers, etc. that they are not using in a mutually beneficial way.
EBONY: What is your ultimate goal with this Digital Inclusion Initiative?
RJ: First, everyone needs to understand that there is no job in Silicon Valley that we cannot do. Second, we deserve mutually beneficial trade. And third, if we can achieve mutual trade, we will prosper, and we will grow. Blacks have an amazing capacity in tech if given the opportunity. We couldn’t grow in baseball until the doors were opened for us, and once they were, in walked the greatest player the game has ever known. We can be just as great in technology, there is no talent deficit – just an opportunity deficit. The ultimate goal is to knock down walls and build bridges.