Lawmakers headed to Silicon Valley to push tech companies on diversity

Three U.S. lawmakers are traveling to Silicon Valley to push tech companies to offer opportunities for African-Americans, an area in which most of these companies have poor track records.

Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairman G. K. Butterfield and Representatives Barbara Lee and Hakeem Jeffries, all members of the CBC Diversity Task Force, will travel to Silicon Valley on Sunday to meet with executives at companies and organizations there, including Apple, Bloomberg, Google, Intel, Kapor, Pandora and SAP.

“Our goal for this trip is to encourage and partner with these organizations to implement a diversity plan that will place more African-Americans in the tech pipeline,” Butterfield said in a statement Thursday. “This will potentially lead to a wide range of opportunities, from student internships to positions on the boards of tech companies.”

The caucus launched a campaign in May that aims to boost recruitment of African-Americans at every level of the industry within the next five years.

The demand for higher representation for blacks, Latinos and women in Silicon Valley technology companies got a boost last year, when civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson persuaded firms to release their diversity data, which revealed that women were underrepresented in comparison to men, while the percentage of blacks and Hispanics employed by many tech companies were in the low single-digits.

About a year later, the tech companies hadn’t changed the racial mix or the percentage of women in their workforce fast enough, which has become a matter of concern to civil rights activists. Blacks accounted for 2 percent of the U.S. employees of Facebook at the end of May this year. The corresponding figure for June last year was again 2 percent, according to diversity data released by the company last month.

Blacks and Hispanics still accounted for 2 and 3 percent respectively of the U.S. employees at Google, although the hiring of people from these groups outstripped the company’s overall hiring growth, the company said in June.

The tech companies are “not any more ‘diverse’ than they were last year,” Jackson said Thursday.

He now wants the companies to have tangible targets and to report on their success in meeting the goals. Pinterest said Thursday it was setting specific hiring goals in 2016 for its diversity program, expanding the number of universities it hires from, setting up an early identification intern program for students from underrepresented backgrounds, besides working with a strategy firm to set up Inclusion Labs at the company, where it will experiment with new ways to improve diversity.

The move met with Jackson’s approval. “We have said, ‘If you don’t measure it, you don’t mean it.’ Clearly, Pinterest means it,” Jackson said in a statement.

Intel has also said it is spending US$300 million to diversify its workforce by 2020. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said this week in a blog post that one of the most important things companies can do to promote diversity in the workplace is ”to correct for the unconscious bias that all of us have.” Facebook offered the presentation part of its training course on managing bias to other companies.

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