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Diversity in Tech: Jesse Jackson Calls for Government Action, Promises More Pressure on Silicon Valley for Diversity Reports

First Posted: Jul 31, 2014 09:48 AM EDT
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Jesse Jackson continued his push for diversity in Silicon Valley this week, calling a more representative workforce in the country's high tech industry the next step for civil rights.

Calling Out Silicon Valley's Diversity Deficit

Jackson has been pushing for more diversity in Silicon Valley this year, attending a shareholders meeting at HP in the Spring to use as a platform to challenge technology companies to emphasize inclusion in their human resources policies. "The tech industry is perhaps the worst industry when it comes to inclusion," he said at the time. "Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day," the well-known civil rights leader also wrote in an open letter to the shareholders of HP. 

Since Jackson's initial prodding in March, if not in part because of it, many technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and most recently, Twitter, have published reports of their workforces' diversity statistics. The results have neither been surprising nor encouraging -- the vast majority of employees and especially leaders at most high tech companies are white and male. For example, Google's report showed that 70 percent of employees were male, and 61 percent were white, while blacks and Hispanics together only represented five percent of the Mountain View giant's workforce. Other companies' workplace statistics did not skew very far from the norm described in Google's report.

That representation problem for Latinos is centered in Silicon Valley but extends beyond as well: According to the most recent U.S. Census data from 2011, Latinos make up only seven percent of employees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-related industries -- less than half of the percentage of Latinos in the work force, overall.

A Call for Government Action, More Transparency

This week, Jackson addressed the federal government through a meeting with members of the Obama administration Monday, as well as USA Today's editorial staff, about what he considers the next step in the civil rights movement. Jackson spoke with Obama's Labor Secretary Tom Perez, urging for a review of H-1B visas -- immigration documents that allow U.S. companies to hire outside the U.S. for specialty positions. "The government has a role to play," in ensuring fair hiring practices in Silicon Valley, he told USA Today. Jackson said that U.S. citizens should have first access to those technology jobs and urged the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to examine employment contracts from big high-tech companies.

"There's no talent shortage. There's an opportunity shortage," said Jackson to USA Today, unfavorably comparing Silicon Valley's hiring practices to similar U.S. industries like auto manufactures. Advocates in favor of reviewing H-1B visas say that the visa program is being abused by high tech companies in the U.S. who purportedly hire foreign workers for tech jobs so they can pay half of what U.S. workers would demand.

In a push for more disclosure of hiring practices in Silicon Valley, Jackson and his advocacy group the Rainbow Push Coalition reportedly plan to file a freedom of information act (FOIA) request with the EEOC to unearth diversity data from technology industry companies that haven't voluntarily disclosed it yet -- including major companies like Amazon, Oracle, Qualcomm, and Yelp. Pandora and eBay, according to the USA Today report, said they were planning to release diversity reports soon.

Jackson told USA Today that tech industry diversity "is the next step in the civil rights movement," which he vowed to continue pushing for -- the 72-year-old has no apparent plans to retire. "The struggle for emancipation is my life," he said. 

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