WHY JESSE JACKSON IS CALLING SILICON VALLEY'S DIVERSITY PROBLEM "THE NEXT STEP IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT."
Silicon Valley's diversity problem is no secret. Less than 1% of startup founders with VC funding are African American, according to venture capital and angel investment database CB Insights. But while attempts to address the diversity conundrum have gotten a lot of lip service, not a whole lot has improved. Of the 20,000 students to pass the Advanced Placement computer science exam last year, for example, only 388—less than 2%—were African American.
Hank Williams, founder of Platform, a nonprofit focused on increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in tech wants that to change. Williams realized he needed to be more vocal about tech's diversity problem after spending 12 weeks in Silicon Valley in 2011 as part of the CNN documentary "Black In America." CEO of the startup Kloudco and a native New Yorker, Williams had never spent that much time in Mountain View. In his 25-year tech career, he was used to being the only black man at the table, but scarcely seeing another person of color in all of Silicon Valley for three full months was unnerving. Why weren't more people talking and doing something about this?
Last week, his organization, which focuses on increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in tech—particularly African Americans, Latinos and women—held its second annual Platform Summit, bringing together industry leaders and advocates including Reverend Jesse Jackson to rally around the issue.
Diversity statistics in tech companies can be hard to come by as many big players in the industry have resisted releasing that data over the years. But in recent months, Rev. Jesse Jackson has pushed back for more transparency, filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to find out just how diverse the boards of 20 of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley are. His advocacy group, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition found that 11 of the 20 companies surveyed including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and eBay had no people of color on their boards. Of the 189 board members across 20 companies, only three were African American and one was Latino.
Jackson, who spoke at the Platform Summit, addressed this need for greater transparency and accountability from tech companies in Silicon Valley. He has called the need for greater diversity in tech "the next step in the civil rights movement."