Benjamin Jealous recently moderated a CBC tech panel. (Courtesy Photo)
Black members of the U.S. Congress recently joined the fight of civil rights organizations to demand that high-tech companies hire more people of color and utilize minority vendors.
The Congressional Black Caucus, led by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and members of the group’s diversity task force, held a panel discussion on “CBC Tech 2020: Unlocking the Future” on May 19 in the Montpelier Room at the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a co-chair of the task force, said that full representation of Blacks in the tech sector by 2020 is a priority.
“Technology has revolutionized our lives and continues to be a driving force in our economy,” Lee said. “African Americans must be included in every aspect of this technological revolution-not just as end users or as a market share.”
Many large high-tech companies are located close to Lee’s Oakland-based district in an area popularly known as Silicon Valley. These companies include Apple, Google, Oracle, Facebook, Intel and Yahoo while Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon.com, Dell and Broadcom have significant operations in the area.
Silicon Valley is known to be a leading hub for innovation and development and it accounts for one-third of all of the venture capital in the United States.
However, the Rainbow-Push Coalition, led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have noted that people of color are few in number when it comes to board directorships and in leadership positions in corporate suites. Jackson has said that of 189 top companies in Silicon Valley, only 36 White women, three African Americans and one Latino hold board directorships.
Studies have shown that only one in fourteen Silicon Valley technical employees is Black or Latino.
Jackson’s organization has repeatedly noted that Blacks use Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets more than other racial groups in terms of their proportion of the U.S. population.
The Level Playing Institute estimates that the tech sector will create 1.4 million jobs by 2020 and at present trends, 70 percent of those positions will be unfilled by that year.
Benjamin Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP is a partner with Kapor Capital, a high-tech company in Oakland. Jealous moderated the discussion that included Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver III (D-Mo.), and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Butterfield issued friendly demands to the tech companies.
Butterfield asked that tech companies include Blacks in their corporate boards and employment and increase their use of minority businesses as vendors. He said that some companies have made progress but others have not.
“We will work with tech companies to hold job fairs in some CBC members’ districts and we need them to work with us to expand Internet access,” Butterfield said.
Cleaver said that tech companies should utilize historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as a resource.
“Tech companies need to invest in HBCUs,” he said. “HBCUs possess an untapped source of talent and the companies will benefit themselves by hiring and training HBCU graduates and students.”
Jackson attended the event and delivered closing remarks. However, even before he spoke, Waters said that the CBC should partner with Jackson.
“Rev. Jackson has already engaged high-tech leaders on issues such as lack of diversity, investment and training,” she said. “We need to literally get with him and work with him with the agreements he has already made.”
Jackson said that Blacks are well-qualified to hold positions of leadership in Silicon Valley but said that there is “not a talent deficit but an opportunity deficit.”
“We have the consumer leverage, the law, the money, the market, the talent, the location and the creativity to work for high-tech companies,” he said. ”
Lee said that the CBC’s effort will meet the future needs of tech companies.
“As the momentum for change continues to build, companies are starting to see that innovation and market success requires a representative and diverse workforce,” the representative said. “Through this initiative, the CBC will be a driving force towards a truly inclusive tech workforce by 2020.”