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Black lawmakers are impatient with tech’s lack of diversity and are threatening regulation to force the issue

Congresswoman Maxine Waters said, “I’m not urging, I’m not encouraging, I’m about to hit some people across the head with a hammer.” 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters behind a podium onstage at the Human Rights Campaign gala
Congresswoman Maxine Waters does not want to hear your excuses.
Frederick M. Brown / Getty
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

Leading black lawmakers are growing impatient with tech’s largely unfulfilled promises to improve employee diversity.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., made the strongest case for regulation during a panel discussion with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the last day of their trip to Silicon Valley. She said she was “floored” to find out that many tech companies had only 1 percent to 2 percent black employees.

“I’m talking about some regulation,” said Waters, who was jokingly referred to by her fellow CBC members on their trip to Silicon Valley as “The Enforcer.” “I’m talking about using the power that our voters have given us to produce legislation and to talk about regulation in these industries that have not been talked about before,” she said. She later added, “I’m not urging, I’m not encouraging, I’m about to hit some people across the head with a hammer.”

Other members of Congress on the trip — Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; and Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y. — also shared their frustration with the lack of improvement they’ve been seeing since the Congressional Black Caucus started a taskforce to improve diversity in tech back in 2015.

Their public talk Tuesday at Lyft’s headquarters concluded the CBC’s third trip to Silicon Valley, which included private discussions with execs like Tim Cook and Jack Dorsey at Apple, Twitter, Paypal and Square.

Waters is poised to become the chair of the House Financial Services Committee if Democrats win control of the House in the upcoming midterm elections. As a potential chair of the influential committee and a leader in passing Dodd-Frank, she could be well placed to enact regulatory action on tech.

When asked what regulatory proposals specifically they were considering, the group discussed expanding the Community Reinvestment Act — which makes sure financial institutions help meet the needs of low-income communities they operate in — to include tech, improving requirements around companies’ EEO-1 diversity reporting and negotiating partnerships with tech companies and underserved school districts to improve education for black students.

Despite the overall critical tone, the lawmakers acknowledged that tech has made some improvements around diversity since their efforts began, including Facebook hiring its first black board member and some other companies marginally increasing their percentages of black employees. Still, the Caucus was quick to say that those improvements are not enough; with an industry average of black employment around 5 percent, they will be pursuing more severe action.

Of course, these threats will only have teeth if Democrats secure control in the upcoming midterm elections, an outcome that pundits are predicting, but as we saw in the presidential election, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen.

You can watch a full recording of the discussion below.

CBC members Reps. Barbara Lee, G. K. Butterfield, Maxine Waters, and Gregory Meeks host a #CBCTECHTALK at Lyft on making SMART investments in Black tech entrepreneurs and communities of color. Watch LIVE and share your questions in the comments:

Posted by Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

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