One percent of the employees of large tech companies are African-American. Of the 20 largest tech companies there are 300 C-Suite employees, 6 are African-American and 3 are Latinos. Those are just a few of the statistics bandied about in Rev. Jesse Jackson’s conversation with ThinkUP CEO Anil Dash at today’s Social Media Week session on Diversity in Tech (or lack thereof).
Jackson presented this as a lost opportunity for Silicon Valley. “We represent value add, not cost of doing business ,” he said. By comparison he noted “We didn’t know how good baseball could be until everybody could play.”
People of color represent 25% of the marketplace for tech services and apps. 25-30% of
Twitter users are black or brown, according to Jackson, who suggested that in this respect the tech companies are out of synch with their market.
The lack of diversity in tech, according to Jackson, is a result of differential access to capital, lack of appropriate educational infrastructure and failure to enforce the law. “It is not a talent deficit, it is an opportunity deficit.”
His group found, in researching diversity in the tech sector, that many large tech companies never filed the Equal Employment Opportunity reports required by law. He said the policies are not being enforced and that “we didn’t get the data because they are embarrassed by the numbers.” Speaking of the large tech companies he commented, “We can solve every problem imaginable except to hire the people who live in our neighborhood.”
He pointed to the preponderance of Asians in the tech sector as being a result of their having access to focused education. Jackson suggested every town or city should have STEM education.
Access to capital is one of the barriers for minorities. Jackson proposed that the money that large tech firms are moving offshore to avoid taxes could be used to create a development bank.
Intel was cited as one company that has made a real commitment to diversity. “The president of Intel kind of got it,” Jackson said.
In keeping with his activities, past and present, Jackson said those who are locked out must demand change. “Struggle for change comes from the bottom up, not the top down.”
This conversation did after all happen at Social Media Week and Jackson described social media as “a medium to change and make America more just.”
Listen to Jackson’s comments in their entirety here.