U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called on the Obama administration Monday to scrutinize the tech industry’s lack of diversity.
“The government has a role to play” in ensuring that women and minorities are fairly represented in the tech workforce, Jackson told a USA TODAY editorial board meeting. He said the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission needs to examine Silicon Valley’s employment contracts.
Jackson spoke after meeting with Labor Secretary Tom Perez to press for a review of H-1B visas, which allow U.S. companies to hire foreigners for specialty jobs. He said data show Americans have the skills and should have first access to high-paying tech work.
“There’s no talent shortage. There’s an opportunity shortage,” he said, calling Silicon Valley “far worse” than many others such as car makers who have been pressured by unions. He said tech behemoths have largely escaped scrutiny by a public dazzled with their cutting-edge gadgets.
No more. Jackson has lobbied nearly two dozen tech companies to disclose hiring data, and about a dozen have done so. The result is sobering: Men make up 62% to 70% of the staffs of Twitter, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn, while whites and Asians comprise 88% to 91%, according to company data released in the past two months. Their dominance is highest in computer programming and other tech jobs that tend to pay the most.
“This is the next step in the civil rights movement,” Jackson said, noting minorities represent a sizable share of tech consumers but not its workers. He said it’s bad business to exclude them. Of Twitter’s U.S. employees, only 3% are Hispanic and 5% black, but those groups along with Asian Americans account for 41% of its U.S. users.
To fix the problem, tech companies say they’re taking steps such as funding outreach programs like Girls Who Code to encourage women in computer science.
“Like our peers, we have a lot of work to do,” Twitter’s Janet Van Huysse wrote in a company blog post last week, acknowledging her company is “part of an industry that is marked by dramatic imbalances in diversity.” She said it makes “good business sense” for Twitter employees to reflect the diversity of its users.
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SOURCE: Wendy Koch