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A lobbying group for Amazon, Facebook and Google is kicking off a new diversity initiative thanks to pressure from Congress

The Internet Association told lawmakers this week that its new campaign aims to “improve diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.”

Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman speaks into microphones in front of the Capitol building. Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for

A key voice for Amazon, Facebook, Google and other tech giants in the nation’s capital is kicking off a new initiative to try to diversify the industry’s predominately white, male ranks.

For years, Silicon Valley and other tech hotspots around the country have faced constant condemnation for failing to hire and retain employees from underrepresented groups. Among the critics is the Congressional Black Caucus, a powerful group of lawmakers that has even threatened regulation if tech doesn’t make major changes.

In response to that political pressure, a key lobbying group for the industry, the Internet Association, told lawmakers this week that it would create a new role to focus on those issues — and kick off a campaign that aims to “improve diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.”

That means a fresh commitment to publish more “accurate and relevant industry-wide employment data,” according to the group’s leader, Michael Beckerman.

“It is important that the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints among internet users is represented in the industry generally and our policy engagement specifically,” he wrote in a letter dated Jan. 23 and obtained by Recode. Other members of the Internet Association include Airbnb, Uber and Twitter.

The missive specifically responds to two lawmakers, Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Bonnie Watson Coleman, who wrote the trade organization last year to demand that it play a greater role in addressing racial and gender bias.

Asked about the hiring announcement, Cleaver told Recode in a statement: “The Internet Association has responded in a very serious and proactive manner to our concerns that there was no one guarding the guardians when it comes to the internet and its potentially negative effects on racial and gender bias. It is critical that this position be given a high level of authority and respect such that any perceived racial and gender biases can be immediately identified and addressed.”

Diversity is hardly a novel challenge for the tech industry; for years, the most prominent brands in Silicon Valley have faced criticism for poor hiring practices and workplaces that lack or fail to retain employees from underrepresented groups.

At Facebook, for example, its U.S. workforce is only 3 percent black, according to data released last year. Google’s technical workforce is 1 percent black, its 2017 data show.

As a result, tech companies have faced immense pressure to improve — including from groups like the CBC, which even traveled to Silicon Valley in recent years to press Apple, Facebook, Intel and others to demand they rethink their hiring practices.

Even outside the context of congressional criticism, these companies claim they’ve made great improvements while investing in organizations that seek to aid minorities in science, technology, engineering and math fields. But there’s a recognition, including on Capitol Hill, that change has not come quickly enough.

In the meantime, tech giants Facebook and Google — which lobbied the federal government extensively last year — tasked their Washington, D.C., offices to focus on lawmakers’ concerns about diversity, according to federal ethics reports.

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