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Black lawmakers will visit Silicon Valley next week to talk to Apple, Square, PayPal and others about workplace diversity

The Congressional Black Caucus is checking on tech’s progress in minority hiring and retention.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus surround Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who is speaking from a podium
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (center) who will be leading the trip along with Rep. Barbara Lee
CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

A record number of black lawmakers will be visiting Silicon Valley next week to ask executives at Apple, Square, PayPal and others what they’re doing to improve employee diversity.

The delegation of lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus will specifically ask how companies can better recruit and retain black employees in tech, who make up less than 3 percent of employees at 21 of the top tech companies, according to an analysis last year from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

It’s not the first time members of the Congressional Black Caucus have made the visit, but it’s the largest delegation the group has sent so far. Led by Congressman G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the delegation will visit tech campuses and meet with groups of black employees from various tech companies hosted at Airbnb’s offices.

The group is looking for an update on how tech companies are doing since the Congressional Black Caucus created the taskforce Tech2020 in 2015. That group was formed to increase black representation at all levels of tech employment, from board members to engineers.

Despite political pressure, the percentage of black employees hasn’t changed much for some major tech companies. Google’s workforce has remained 2 percent black since 2014. Facebook saw its proportion of black employees increase slightly from 2 percent to 3 percent last year. Apple and Uber have a relatively larger percentage of black employees at 9 percent and 8 percent respectively.

“Since launching Tech2020, a few companies have moved the needle on African American hiring. But most companies remain in the same place they were in 2015. This is not okay.” wrote Congressman Butterfield in an email to Recode. “Our goal for this trip is to ensure the economic growth tech companies are enjoying benefit all and not the top few.”

Congresswoman Lee, who represents California’s 13th congressional district which encompasses Oakland and Berkeley, said she’d also like to see more progress around diversity employment.

“We have to keep working, because I don’t think any of these companies have achieved equity and parity in the workforce,” she told Recode. She added that they’d also like to address how tech companies are impacting communities of color that have been priced out of the neighborhoods they live in, an issue that particularly affects constituents of her district in the Bay Area.

Missing from the list of the companies they will be meeting with? Facebook, Twitter, Uber and Lyft, among others the delegation visited on their trip last year.

The lawmakers said they’re meeting with a smaller group of execs this time for both logistical reasons — the size of the delegation is larger this time and allows for less travel — as well as strategic ones. The group said they’re specifically interested in speaking with payments companies like Square and PayPal because they want to see how these companies can better support black entrepreneurs who run small businesses.

And the lawmakers would like to learn what’s working from Square, PayPal and Apple, who do a relatively better job than their peers of hiring and retaining black talent, since they each have a workforce that is at least 6 percent black.

Earlier this month, Congressman Butterfield grilled CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the lack of diversity at tech companies including Facebook, and asked if he would convene a group of tech CEOs to address the matter. Zuckerberg responded that it was a “good idea” and that “we should follow up on it.”

Congresswoman Lee said that while they won’t be speaking with Facebook this time, this conversation is just one of many they will have with Facebook and that members of the caucus “will talk later” with leaders of the social media giant about diversity.

Here is a full list of the representatives planning on attending:

  • Congressman G.K. Butterfield, CBC Diversity Task Force Co-Chair
  • Congresswoman Barbara Lee, CBC Diversity Task Force Co-Chair
  • Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services
  • Congressman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., House Committee on Financial Services

And here is a tentative agenda of their schedule:

Monday 4/30

  • Visit to Apple and PayPal HQ to meet with company executives
  • 4 pm: Roundtable discussion about black tech hiring pipeline with black founders, tech nonprofits, students and educators

Tuesday 5/1

  • Visit to Airbnb HQ to meet with black employees at various tech companies and a visit to Square HQ to meet with company executives
  • 3 pm: Tech talk about how to increase wealth in the black community through tech

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