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Congressional Black Caucus Calls on Silicon Valley to Improve Diversity

Chief executive officers of Apple and Intel met with the congressional delegation and affirmed their commitments to diversity.

Dawn Chmielewski

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus traveled to Silicon Valley this week to deliver a message: Technology companies need to hire more black Americans.

Caucus members met with some of the industry’s biggest employers — Apple, Google, Intel, SAP and Pandora — to seek an accounting of how these companies plan to achieve their stated goal of a more diverse workforce.

“All of them are deficient,” said U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, the North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “None of them have African Americans on their boards of directors, and that is very disappointing, because African Americans are part of the customer base of all five of these companies.”

Political pressure has been building on the technology industry to improve its hiring record. Though these companies tout the value of inclusion and diversity, they remain dominated by white and Asian men. Blacks account for just 2 percent of the workforce at Google and slightly more — 7 percent — at Apple, but they make up about 13 percent of the total U.S. population.

Silicon Valley needs to remain on cordial terms with Washington, D.C., as it seeks help on an array of issues, including patent and tax reform.

Butterfield said the three-member congressional delegation, led by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, both of whom told the lawmakers they recognize the importance of a diverse workforce. The legislators said they received varying levels of commitments from all of the executives they met with in Silicon Valley.

“Each one of them had their own perspective on how they want to achieve the result, but all of them have a desire to include African Americans,” said Butterfield, speaking Tuesday at a press event in San Francisco.

Earlier this year, the caucus developed a five-year plan to address the underrepresentation of blacks within the technology industry. Its goal is to achieve full inclusion by 2020.

“We discussed short- and long-term steps necessary to address what is quite frankly a very shameful lack of diversity within these firms,” said Lee, whose congressional district borders Silicon Valley. “They understand that an increase in diversity is good for business. … But we believe, in addition to it being good for business, it’s a moral imperative.”

Lee said she and other members of the delegation called on the tech powerhouses to increase their support of historically black colleges and universities, to ensure more graduates are qualified to fill the anticipated 1.4 million new tech-industry jobs that are anticipated by 2020. The legislators also called upon the companies to look to increase diversity in all parts of the company, including finance, legal and marketing.

“We must change the pipeline. We must change the recruitment. We must change the retention atmosphere. We must change the culture and we must ensure that there is a commitment at all levels of the company, beginning with the chief executive officer, to a diverse workforce,” said Rep. Hakeem Jefferies, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn.

Apple issued a statement, saying it believes diversity is critical to making great products. That’s why it has contributed $100 million worth of iPads, MacBooks and other equipment to support President Obama’s ConnectED initiative to bring high-speed Interent access to America’s classrooms. It’s also working to find diverse talent through the National Center for Women & Information Technology and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Congressional Black Caucus towards our shared goal of equal access to opportunities in technology,” the company said.

Google also said it shares the caucus’ goals of improving diversity at the company and more broadly, in the tech industry.

“We looked forward to continue conversations we had in Washington with the Congressional Black Caucus, and we welcomed their visit to campus,” the company said in a statement.

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