News

January 16, 2015

San Jose Mercury News: Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of Jesse Jackson in Silicon Valley

Mercury News Editorial

On the holiday honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it's a safe bet that the civil rights leader would be proud of the work the Rev. Jesse Jackson is doing to improve racial, ethnic and gender diversity in Silicon Valley's tech workforce.

But King would also remind us -- in that unique, eloquent way we could never match -- there's still work to be done.

 

When Jackson met with our editorial board last year to announce this initiative -- the video is linked to this editorial at www.mercurynews.com/opinion -- he was persuasive as always, but we weren't sure he'd succeed. Others, including writers at this newspaper, for years have called out how the tech workforce here reflects neither the population of the valley nor the target market for products. The poor record of including blacks, Latinos and women in hiring, board appointments and startup funding was pervasive.

 

Jackson's dealings have become controversial over the years. But at 73, when it comes to civil rights, he's still got that spark.

 

The first step toward solving a societal problem is shining a light on it. So, Jackson first got prominent tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google, to publish reports on their diversity -- or lack thereof. None of them has more than 7 percent of employees who are black or Latino.

 

Then Jackson's Rainbow PUSH organization hosted a summit in December that attracted representatives from Google, Microsoft and more than 20 other companies. That inspired Intel CEO Brian Krzanich to announce at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that his company was committing to actual change. He pledged $300 million to transform Intel's workforce by 2020 to mirror the demographics in the market, including increasing its minuscule black workforce by 50 percent and women and other underrepresented groups by 14 percent.

Critics immediately looked for loopholes, of course. But just getting companies to disclose their records has been a major step: It leads to accountability.

Reputations will be established. Consumers and employees who care about these issues -- and many do, here and around the world -- will take note. Talented women and minorities will learn which companies welcome them and will apply for jobs accordingly.

 

It's a truism that diversity in gender and race leads to diversity of thinking. Silicon Valley can't afford to ignore the ideas and creativity of a significant portion of its potential workforce -- or potential market. Tech's greatest opportunities for market growth are in areas where caucasians are a minority.

 

It's helpful when doing the right thing happens to be good for business. But King always said these things best. Nearly 50 years after his death, he offered this admonishment:

 

"The time is always right to do what is right.''