ANNUAL MEETING: Jesse Jackson Urges Facebook To Add Minorities To Board, C-Suite


JesseJackson650The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Facebook to include minorities on its board of directors in a brief speech prior to the question-and-answer session at the company’s annual meeting Thursday at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay in Redwood City, Calif.

Highlights of Jackson’s comments follow:

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 everybody 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. Today, there is an imbalance — too much one-way trade, too many left out, too many gaps between the surplus and depths with cultures just are changing. Those who are left out represent money, market, talent, and location. You have technology, expertise, and resources. We can all win if we close the gaps. African-American and Latino colors will comprise a huge and fast-growing part of your customer base.

In a short period of time, minorities will comprise the new majority population in California. Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day. Let me state some facts. There are zero blacks and Latinos in the C-suites all too often. Tech powerhouses including Facebook, Apple, and Google, new media companies like Twitter, have zero blacks on their boards of directors. In the C-suites, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and far too many companies have zero African Americans on their boards or Latinos in their leadership positions in the C-suites.

At least would make a commitment to include blacks and Latinos on your board of directors? Specifically, would you agree to place a bylaw and amendment similar to Apple that will require an explicit and active search for women and people of color for all of your board openings? Will Facebook commit to a bylaw provision to mandate that women and people of color are included as part of any search for C-suite-level positions? Will Facebook commit to the inclusion of black and minority firms in all debt offerings and future financial transactions, and building pipelines for education?

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg responded to Jackson’s comments:

Rev. Jackson, it’s an honor to have you here, and we thank you for your support, your appreciation of our technology, and also your very strong words on the importance of diversity. We agree with you. We have a community that’s over 1.2 billion people around the world, and that’s an incredibly diverse community. And it is good for us, and important that the people who are building Facebook represent the community we serve fully. And that means representation of all kinds of people who have historically been underrepresented.

We’ve taken this quite seriously. Over the past year, we’ve set up our first very explicit diversity hiring and diversity program under the leadership of (Global Head of Diversity) Maxine Williams, who is here with us today. And we are in the early days of what we’re doing, but I’ll share a few words on where we’re focusing at first and where we intent to grow.

So our focus right now is really on trying to hire more people into the company, as well as grow their careers. And so we do this in three years. We have built a number of great partnerships, groups like the National Society of Black Engineers, the Hispanic Alumni of Georgia Tech, Grace Hopper for girls who code, Management Leadership of Tomorrow. And these partnerships have been great because they are really helping us get great candidates and reach out.

We set-up last summer for the first time our own Facebook U, Facebook University, which is a minority and women paid summer internship program looking for candidates who don’t necessarily already have the coding skills that we normally hire for, but people who we believe we can train. And we had a really successful summer getting people up to speeds who had great technical skills in the areas we needed them, and we’ve grown the program by 60 percent this summer.

We’re also working really hard in our internal recruiting programs. We believe, as you do, that transparency is really important. And we’re on a path to get there. We’re looking at our numbers internally. We’re seeing growth already from what we’re doing and we would like to be on a path to share them.

When it comes to board candidates, when and if our board expands, we are very committed to looking broadly, including looking at candidates with diverse backgrounds. And on minority firms, they participated in our IPO, and we continue to keep in touch with them for future opportunities.

Readers: What did you think of Jackson’s comments and Sandberg’s response?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.



Minorities in tech: A vastly under-tapped market



As the economy gets stronger, jobs in the tech sector continue to boom. Every month around 9,600 technology-related jobs are added. Which is why teaching technology — be it MOOCs, code camps, meetups — has become such a popular entrepreneurial endeavor over the past few years.

But not everyone has been catching the wave. Minorities and women represent a tiny fraction of the robust technology economy. The good news, I suppose, is that there are advocates and leaders out there trying to fix this. And, well, they have their work cut out for them. South by Southwest held a fascinating, albeit depressingly under-attended, panel on this issue with a few of these leaders.

To give you a sense of the inequality gap Laura Weidman Powers, co-founder and executive director of the minority engineer advocacy program CODE2040, says the average income of a computer science graduate equals the median income of one black and one latino family combined. That is, one engineer rakes in more cash than two entire families.

That’s why she views her role as so important. “There’s a deep need for technical talent,” she told the audience. “There will be a million jobs in tech unfilled by 2020.”

A great deal of what she does is to seek out universities that have top minority engineers of which most companies aren’t aware. CODE2040 has mapped out and connected with institutions it considers underserved by current recruiters. “[Tech companies] think they’e tapped the talent pool, and what we’re saying is ‘no, you have not,”” Powers said.

The pitfalls that minority students face come from myriad angles. For one, many minority students lack the guidance to help prove themselves to potential employees. “We saw that students who were technically talented weren’t presented in a way that companies would recognize as being right for them,” Powers said. For instance, many students believe GPA should be the top priority to secure a job. For many companies, however, exhibiting side projects is just as important. Students who have not received the proper coaching may not know that and opt to overload on classes instead of spearheading a coding club.

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To the panelists, this issue is just as important as it is time sensitive. “Systems and cultures calcify over time and tech is relatively new,” said Mario Lugay of the Kapor Center for Social Impact. “The longer we wait, the longer it calcifies.” That’s why he and the others see their roles as making sure people are talking about diversity in tech, which can lead to action.

The flip side, of course, is that while people love to talk about diversity in the abstract, the specifics can get uncomfortable — especially for such a white male dominated industry. “How do you have a conversation like this with a white guy, which is probably 75 percent of the time?” Powers asked. Her answer: just do it. “This is awkward, but what’s important is that we’re talking about it.”

Half the battle, then, is just having this conversation. And many tech companies, it seems, are turning a blind eye. “The inability to recognize the root causes of this inequality is tech’s greatest inefficiency,” Lugay said. “The subtle biases that plague the tech sector make not-so-subtle distortions.”

There are no easy solutions. Ultimately, if tech companies are to fill the ever-increasing slots for jobs, they may have to shift the dominant culture. The way to do this may be to have these difficult conversations Powers alluded to and seek out new recruiting avenues.

As Powers put it, tech companies ought to be “[looking] at it through the lens of market opportunity.” While these panelists could be considered activists, to them they’re just market analysts exhibiting an untapped supply.