Jesse Jackson has Silicon Valley's number
August 05, 2014
At age 72, the Rev. Jesse Jackson still has plenty of appetite for a fight.
These days, he's battling Silicon Valley. Mr. Jackson's Chicago-based Rainbow Push Coalition has helped pressure Google Inc., Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and eBay Inc. to come clean about the racial makeup of their workforces.
Predictably, they're overwhelmingly white or Asian and male. At Google, Facebook and Twitter, the workforces are about 90 percent white and Asian, with about 5 percent African-American and Hispanic. These companies also are about 70 percent male. (The best showing came from eBay Inc., which had 12 percent African-American and Hispanic and 58 percent male.)
What's unexpected is Mr. Jackson's involvement. Best known for marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and taking on Wall Street and the auto industry to increase minority participation, he showed up earlier this year at Hewlett-Packard Co.'s shareholder meeting.
“The country's moving toward tech — it's the fastest-growing, most lucrative opportunity,” Mr. Jackson told me. “The biggest growth engine is social media.
"We're being left behind: The deplorable statistics in tech had to be confronted. Now is the time to challenge the industry. The data show African-Americans have about 2 percent (labor) participation in the technology industry. But as consumers we're often 25 to 30 percent."
Tech companies have been under pressure for years to disclose their employment data, dating back to 2010, when the San Jose Mercury News filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Companies must file a form called an EEO-1, detailing their ethnic and gender breakdowns. Companies such as Google, Apple Inc. and Yahoo Inc. fought the disclosures and won, persuading the EEOC to withhold them.
But earlier this year, amid public demands by Mr. Jackson and Oakland, California-based ColorofChange.org, things changed.
ONLY A START
Twitter declined to comment beyond its blog post, releasing the data.
Mr. Jackson said Rainbow Push has had a Silicon Valley office for 15 years and that it's just using the same economic weapons that civil rights activists have used since the 1960s.
"We leveraged our buying dollars to build reciprocal relationships," he said. "We've always had two weapons: our dollar and our vote."
Disclosure is only a start, but it's significant, nonetheless.
“I've seen a lot of (diversity) initiatives, but I've seen very little change in the big picture. It's a good start,” said Amanda Kimball, a researcher at the University of California-Davis Graduate School of Management who tracks the female leadership of Silicon Valley companies in an annual study.
TURNING A CORNER?
Twitter and Facebook also have appointed women to their boards of directors in recent months.
“The fact that both Facebook and Twitter bowed to the pressure and put a woman on their board, and Google released their (workforce) information is a step forward," Ms. Kimball says. "I don't know they've turned a corner."
Mr. Jackson wants tech companies to commit to specific targets and timetables for hiring, spending and investment with minority-led firms that provide advertising, legal and investment services.
“Seventy percent of jobs (in Silicon Valley) aren't tech,” he said. “They're lawyers, ad agencies, marketing. It's early, we're just beginning to get the companies to show how bad their numbers are,” he added. “Now is the time to challenge the industry. All the companies say they must do better. Now they have to move to concrete plans.”
Follow John on Twitter at @JohnPletz.