What is Reverend Jesse Jackson Doing in Silicon Valley?

Does tech need a lesson in civil rights? Something like that.

The tech world has a lot of things to be proud of, but its lack of diversity is not one of them. That’s why, for the past few years, civil rights activists have been lobbying major firms to release data on workplace diversity. The idea isn’t exactly to shame companies into diversifying, but to expose them for who they are.

This is where Rev. Jesse Jackson comes in. A veteran American civil rights leader, Jackson has insisted that tech companies not only make this information public but also actively address the issues it raises. Last May, thanks in part to Jackson’s perseverance, Google released its diversity statistics, and the results were not pretty: Hispanics comprised only 3% of its workforce, black employees made up only 2%; and only 30% of their staff were women. Still, Jackson applauded Google for doing the right thing and called on the rest of Silicon Valley to follow suit.

If Palo Alto seems like an unlikely place for the 73-year-old activist to show up, that’s because it is, but the core diversity issues at hand aren’t all that different from the ones Jackson has been dealing with his entire career. The press release issued by Jackson’s nonprofit social justice organization, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, after Google released its 2014 data, read:

“Silicon Valley and the tech industry have demonstrated an ability to solve the most challenging and complex problems in the world. Inclusion is a complex problem — if we put our collective minds together, we can solve that too. There’s nothing we can’t do, together. Silicon Valley must evolve and expand to look like America, and mirror American values and principles — we must even the playing field and play by one set of rules.”

Not long after, Twitter, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple released their own equally disappointing diversity statistics. An analysis by Mother Jones of the 2014 data showed that less than 10 percent of the tech sector was black or Hispanic, compared to 27 percent in the overall American workforce. At senior-level positions, the numbers were even more jarring: only 2 percent of the 189 board directors of leading tech companies were black or Hispanic.

Continuing his efforts with Rainbow/PUSH, Jackson has followed up. Though the same companies have kept up with their promise to release their data, the numbers show that while the companies are now self-aware, they remain largely male and largely white. “Diversity is important to us, and we’re working on it” seems to be the common refrain. Facebook claims that they’ve created new programs to open up the hiring pool to underrepresented groups and created educational opportunities to train young potential employees in computer science, but these programs are still firmly in the “pilot” or “testing” phases. Google, Pinterest, and Twitter also say they’ve implemented new programs, but their numbers have, likewise, hardly budged.

Here’s the thing about Jackson: He’s stubborn as hell. The numbers will move; he’ll make goddam sure of it.

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