Jesse Jackson Demands ‘Diversity’ from Silicon Valley (Part II)

Posted: Jun 08, 2014 12:01 AM
Jesse Jackson Demands ‘Diversity’ from Silicon Valley (Part II)

Editor's note: This column is Part II in a series. Click here for Part I.

The information technology industry long has been one of Jesse Jackson’s targets. Well over a decade ago Rainbow/PUSH established its Silicon Valley Project office. There is enormous money to be extracted on behalf of minority groups ostensibly “excluded” from tech industry employment. Whether such concessions benefit a particular company is immaterial. Jackson is a power broker. His specialty is confrontation. He disingenuously uses imagery of fairness and togetherness when it suits his needs, but his ulterior motive is anything but a “win-win.” The world of race-based shakedowns, by its nature, is one of zero-sum economics. If one group wins, another loses. And Jesse Jackson means for blacks (and to an extent, Hispanics) to win and for whites to lose.

Jesse Jackson took his moral theater this past month to three titans of Silicon Valley. First stop: eBay. The online auction and shopping website, held its convention in San Jose on May 13. And Jackson issued a statement urging company officials to raise the profile of racial minorities in hiring for the executive suites and in contracting. The next day, May 14, Jackson similarly hectored officials and shareholders of Google at company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. And on May 24, Jackson brought his show to Redwood City, Calif., site of this year’s Facebook shareholder meeting. With Facebook Chairman/CEO Mark Zuckerberg, CFO David Ebersman and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg looking on, Jackson denounced the company for its “patterns of exclusion.

It’s worth quoting at length from his Facebook statement because it encapsulates the essence of his tour:

I speak to you today representing the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, about the need to open up a new era of growth and inclusion of African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color in Silicon Valley’s technology industry. Inclusion leads to growth, and when there is growth, everybody wins.

Facebook is uniquely positioned to lead this new era. We won’t know how good Silicon Valley can be until everyone can participate.

All we ask is that everyone plays by one set of rules, and that there is an even playing field for all. It’s the moral imperative.

We want mutually beneficial, two-way trade. We share consumer patterns together; pay taxes together; we serve in the military together to keep our nation secure. We should share in America’s opportunity and growth together. Bit today there is an imbalance; too much one-way trade, too many gaps. We have money market talent and location. You have technology, expertise and resources. We can all win. Let’s close the gaps.

African-Americans and people of color comprise a huge and growing part of your customer base. In a short period of time, minorities will comprise the new majority population of California.Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remain the order of the day. Let me state some facts:

ZERO blacks on boards and in the C-suites.

Tech powerhouses including Facebook, Apple and Google, and new media companies like Twitter – have ZERO blacks on their board of directors.

In the C-suites, Facebook, like Twitter, Apple and far too many other Silicon Valley and technology firms have ZERO African-Americans or Latinos on their senior executive leadership teams.

Just as women leaders are now making some headway – like Sheryl (Sandberg) and Marissa Mayer at Yahoo – companies like Facebook must build a pipeline wherein African-Americans and people of color to lean in and move up, too. The “we can’t find them” syndrome is a thing of the past. Who is looking? And where are “they” looking? We can find them, if we look in the right places. Facebook and other tech firms can find us when it comes to consumers of technology. You can find us – we are CEOs and CFOs and engineers and lawyers and ad agencies and investment bankers, too. Rainbow/PUSH stands ready to search with you to find qualified candidates.

The responses by these information technology leaders could have been predicted. Management at eBay had nothing to say – at least nothing that was reported. That amounted to tacit agreement. More telling was the response by Google, whose Chief Legal Officer David Drummond promised to release the numbers – and already has. On May 29, the company issued a report on workforce diversity showing about 60 percent of Google employees are white and 30 percent are Asian (apparently not all racial minorities arouse Jackson’s sympathies). Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president for public relations, also wrote in a blog: “Simply put, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.”

Facebook also gave in, adopting a feckless “we’re really, really trying” line. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg explained in writing: “We have built a number of great partnerships, groups like the National Society of Black Engineers, the Hispanic Alumni of Georgia Tech, Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and Management Leadership of Tomorrow. And these partnerships have been great because they are really helping us get great candidates and reach out.”

Jackson’s IT industry gambit, in fact, has been all over the map this year. Earlier this year, he wrote a letter to tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Twitter, replete with his familiar hectoring style. In March, he showed up at the HP shareholders meeting to skewer CEO Meg Whitman and her company’s record on minority hiring. And near the end of last month, appearing on CNBC, Jackson denounced information technology firms for their lack of diversity.

It’s important to keep in mind that though major U.S. employers are not required to make employee demographic data public, they must furnish such data to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And the numbers eventually can be used in a federal lawsuit against any company for its “disparate impact” upon minorities. In other words, even if a tech firm hasn’t willfully discriminated against minorities in any of its practices, it can be sued anyway because its actions had the effect of keeping minority representation below an ostensibly proper level. One can be sure that Jackson will happily facilitate an EEOC or Justice Department legal action against Google or any other Silicon Valley company.

All of this is depressing. Jesse Jackson’s targets in his latest campaign are among the largest and fastest-growing firms in the business world. If these corporations can’t summon the cojones to stand up to Jackson, one hardly can imagine small start-ups doing so. Most industry leaders are willing to succumb to people like Jackson if doing so buys time in the face of a boycott, lawsuit or other attempt to sabotage their company brand name. In business, image is everything. And nothing weakens a company image these days quite like a charge of “racism.”

Fortunately, there is one person in Silicon Valley who could serve as a model for resistance. That would be T. J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of the San Jose-based Cypress Semiconductor. Some 15 years ago, Jackson had embarked on a similar campaign to promote affirmation action in IT industry employment. But Rodgers wasn’t about to buckle. In March 1999, he authored an editorial for the San Jose Mercury News, “Valley Should Stand Up to Jackson’s Divisive Tactics,” in which he rebutted Jackson’s campaign. A few years earlier, he had referred to boardroom quotas as “unsound” and “immoral.” He was right then and he would be just as right today. And he suffered no ill consequences. Courage does pay.

Tech firms, whether their specialty is hardware, software, e-commerce or social media, don’t owe any reparations to a given class of “underrepresented” people. They are in business to provide customers with quality products and service. They should have the right to hire anyone who can help them fulfill this mission. Theirs is a ferociously competitive world in which even moving forward “too slowly” can mean obsolescence. One must be an innovation and marketing leader or risk being left in the dust.

If black, Hispanic and other minority-group tech entrepreneurs think they can succeed in that world then let them have a go of it. Nobody is holding them down. But it’s not the job of Google, Facebook or any other established firm to make amends for nonexistent wrongdoing on their part. They should tell Jesse Jackson to take a hike.