Jesse Jackson stops by Google’s headquarters in Venice to call for greater diversity in tech

By Gary Walker

The conversation at PUSH Tech 2020 included (from left) digital tech strategist Navarrow Wright, gospel singer Erica Campbell, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and YouTube Global Head of Content Malik Ducard

The conversation at PUSH Tech 2020 included (from left) digital tech strategist Navarrow Wright, gospel singer Erica Campbell, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and YouTube Global Head of Content Malik Ducard

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson was at Google’s headquarters in Venice last week to call for greater diversity in the Westside’s booming digital technology sector.

The Rev. Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition (a merger of the Rainbow Coalition and People United to Serve Humanity) teamed up with Google to hold the PUSH Tech 2020 Los Angeles Forum, an event designed both to pressure tech firms to increase workforce diversity and to prepare blacks and Latinos for tech jobs.

Jackson launched a campaign against racial inequity in the tech sector after addressing Google’s annual shareholder meeting last year. In an interview prior to the June 29 event, he used industry vernacular to point out that while many minority groups tend to be heavy users of social media, blacks and Latinos are sharply underrepresented in computer science and engineering jobs.

“In almost all of these companies we are ‘over-indexing’ as consumers and participants and ‘under-indexing’ in the boardroom as well as in employment, as executives and in investment startups,” Jackson said. “We have every right to be a part of these companies. As the public sector closes down on us, we have to look more in the private sector, and we have the mental and financial capacity to do so. There’s no reason to lock us out.”

A study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project in late 2012 found that 25% of African Americans and 19% of Latinos surveyed said they used Twitter, compared to 14% of white respondents. Instagram usage followed a similar pattern: 23% among blacks, 18% among Latinos and 11% among whites.

When it comes to working for top tech companies, however, minority participation plummets. According to reports filed last year with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, blacks fill only 1% and Latinos 2% of high-tech jobs at Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple and other major companies.

As Mother Jones extrapolated from the same data last week, “the combined black workforces of Google, Facebook and Twitter [758 people] could fit on a single jumbo jet.”

“Race is still very much a factor. We couldn’t play baseball before 1947, so doors had to open. Of 189 board members of the top 20 companies, there are 36 white women, three blacks and one Latino. [Apple CEO] Tim Cook himself has said it’s [the tech industry’s] fault that there’s so little diversity,” Jackson said.

“What PUSH has done is we have bought shares of stock in these corporations and we’ve put pressure on them to expose these bad records and challenged them to respond to their real records. They have great images, but there’s a gap between their images and their records,” he continued.

YouTube Global Head of Content Malik Ducard, who also attended the forum, said that minority underrepresentation underscores how tech companies must work to break down their current homogeneity in the workplace. He thinks the concentration of high-tech companies in Playa Vista (including his own) could pave the way for more minority hiring all around.

“The low numbers show that there is an opportunity to do a lot better in the marketplace. We’re planning on doing more to create opportunities in Los Angeles, and we admire that the work that Rainbow PUSH has been doing to help us,” Ducard said.

The PUSH Tech 2020 event also included panel discussions on how minorities can become digital tech entrepreneurs.

“Multicultural consumers, including African-Americans, are avid users of social media and technology, and we need to turn our usage into creating the next great video game, the next Facebook or Google,” said Sheila Marmon, CEO of the Culver City-based advertising agency Mirror Digital. “People hire people they know, so it’s important for us to facilitate and create bridges between ourselves and these large technology companies.”

Jackson said there is a wellspring of talent at traditionally black colleges such as Howard and Southern universities, but accused high-tech hiring managers of failing to seek them out.

“There are so many qualified African-Americans and Latinos. The narrative is that they can’t find us, but we can be found. They can’t find black engineers? They’ve not been recruiting, training or maintaining them, and we’re changing that,” he said.

Google has committed $150 million to a four-part inclusionary hiring strategy that includes outreach to historically black colleges and developing coding initiatives with high schools in diverse neighborhoods, Google spokeswoman Roya Soleimani said.

“That money is divided into two big categories: the funds we’re using to support external partners in the communities, and the funds we’re using to make Google more diverse and inclusive. We know that money alone won’t make us more diverse — these dollars support a broader and holistic long-term strategy,” Soleimani said.

Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester invites companies to its annual spring Intern Recruitment Day, said Donna Lee Oda, the college’s director of the center of creative professions.

“We’re very well placed here, being so close to Playa Vista,” Oda said.

LAUSD has two initiatives that are designed to help students learn coding — the backbone of computer programming and gateway to the high-tech workforce — and one of them is at Beethoven Elementary School in Mar Vista.

Marmon said the Beethoven program is a good place for children of all ethnic backgrounds to learn skills that could open a wide variety of employment opportunities.

“I think in 10 or 15 years we’re going to look back and say ‘How did we not know how to code?’ Coding is the way that you create in this technology -driven space, and not being able to code is like not being able to write,” Marmon said.