The Congressional Black Caucus Goes to the Valley

The CBC is in Silicon Valley to meet with Google and Apple executives.

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Aug 5 2015, 9:00am

Image: G.K. Butterfield/Facebook

The Congressional Black Caucus is in Silicon Valley this week to meet with companies that are at the forefront of innovation but lacking a diverse workforce. CBC members will visit many of the tech giants, including Apple, Bloomberg, Google, Intel, and Pandora.

It's part of the CBC's TECH 2020 plan, which outlines diversity principles, best practices, and resources for African American students and entrepreneurs, and introduces legislation focused on increasing STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, math) education.

Part of the CBC's plan aims to get stakeholders, nonprofits, and tech companies to publish a diversity and inclusion plan that would consist of short- and long-term solutions to ensure African American representation in tech and non-tech jobs by 2020.

The alternative is untenable as well as unconscionable

"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," Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), CBC chairman, said in a press release. "This will potentially lead to a wide range of opportunities, from student internships to positions on the boards of tech companies. Building a coalition of leaders from the public and private sectors ensures greater diversity and full representation of African Americans at every level of tech by 2020."

The CBC has found African Americans to be a largely untapped talent pool that can help close the economic gap caused by the digital divide—the economic and social inequality that derives from access to information technology—and foster diverse thinking that will increase innovation and improve the US's global competitiveness in the technology industry.

As Mike Isaac recently reported at the New York Times:

Nearly 60 percent of Twitter employees identify as white in its diversity report, while 70 percent of its global employees are male. The most underrepresented groups were blacks, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, with a combined total making up less than 7 percent of the company's United States-based employees. 30 percent of its employees are women. But among tech employees, only one in 10 is a woman. Among people in leadership positions, 21 percent are women.

Facebook reported a similar demographic breakdown in June: About 57 percent of Facebook's United States-based workers are white and 34 percent Asian, with additional ethnic groups such as blacks or Latinos making up fewer than 9 percent of the company's United States employees.

Twitter and Facebook are not alone in their dismal diversity stats; the rest of the industry giants have all participated in the hand-wringing, lip service-y "we have work to do" meme that has come to dominate tech's PR propaganda as of late.

One company has actually publicly laid out a plan with concrete target goals: Pinterest. As Motherboard reported, Pinterest's co-founder Evan Sharp "put a number on the company's 2016 targets for hiring both women and employees from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds (i.e. not white or Asian)" in a recent blog post.

Those goals include increasing full-time engineering roles to 30 percent female and 8 percent underrepresented backgrounds; increasing non-engineering roles to 12 percent underrepresented backgrounds; and ensuring that at least one woman and one person from an underrepresented background is interviewed for every leadership position.

The alternative is untenable as well as unconscionable. In addition to the historic, institutional, hidden and unconscious barriers, the increased wealth and opportunity gaps in America driving the new digital divide that disproportionately affect people of color, the scraping of "every morsel of economic opportunity off the table" will very likely lead to violent civil unrest, Hank Williams, co-founder of Platform, a Ted-like conference of entrepreneurs, thought leaders, technologists and philanthropists who come together annually to actively address these issues, recently told me.

"You can't have significant parts of your population locked out of the most important and fastest growing parts of the economy and think that there will not, sooner than later, be angry protests in the streets, and worse," he said. "The problem is, the innovation economy is the economy. If all the significant growth that we expect going forward is coming from fields in which vast blocks of people have no participation or engagement, then we are heading for trouble."