An oft-discussed topic in the world of tech is the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley—specifically the dearth of women, blacks, and Latinos on the executive boards of all the big tech giants. That’s despite the fact that women, blacks, and Latinos often disproportionately use the tech products that come out of Silicon Valley more than the standard white male does.
That’s why Jesse Jackson is planning on crashing the HP shareholders meeting this afternoon. Jackson revealed earlier this week that he plans to lead a delegation to HP’s headquarters to call attention to the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley.
“At its best, technology can be a tremendously positive change agent for the world; at its worst, it can hold on to old patterns that exclude people of color and women from opportunity and advancement,” Jackson wrote in a letter to Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, HP, and other major tech companies. “When it comes to African Americans on Board – ZERO. C-suites, ZERO. Minority firms in IPOs and financial transactions, advertising and professional services – ZERO.”
Among S&P 500 companies, whites made up a total of 86.7% of board seats, and among the Fortune 500, only five CEOs—1%--are black. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic consumers continue to outpace white consumers in terms of smartphone ownership (59% of blacks and 61% of Hispanics own smartphones, compared to 53% of whites). Additionally, black, Hispanic, and female consumers are more likely than whites and males to use social networking sites.
That said, it’s not entirely clear why HP is the focus of Jackson’s campaign—and indeed, Jackson admitted that he’s not trying to single out HP. In 2011, HP was actually recognized by Allstate in alliance with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition (which was formed by Jesse Jackson) for using more minority firms in its debt offerings.
“While we certainly agree that diversity is an important issue in corporate America, we’re puzzled by Rev. Jackson’s sudden interest in HP. Today, HP is the largest company in the world with both a female CEO and CFO and nearly half of our leadership team and Board of Directors are women and minorities,” said HP EVP Henry Gomez, in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Rev. Jackson at our shareholder meeting.”
Of course, it’s not just the big tech companies. Diversity remains a problem among smaller tech startups as well. Just last week, Julie Ann Horvath became the first Github engineer to quit after two years of harassment and sexism in the workplace, which went largely ignored until now.
In a startup class in 2012, Max Levchin himself admitted that PayPal once rejected a candidate who aced all of the engineering tests purely because he said he liked to “play hoops” for fun. Additionally, he admitted that PayPal had a hard time hiring women because the startup was made up of a bunch of nerds who simply didn’t know how to interact with women, let alone hire them.
“One good hiring maxim is: whenever there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt. It’s a good heuristic. More often than not, any doubt precluded a hire,” said Levchin.
So the mystery of why there are so few women and minorities in tech isn’t quite as mysterious as we once thought.