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Black caucus pushes tech firms to diversify their lobbying offices

Black caucus pushes tech firms to diversify their lobbying offices
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is turning its attention to the lobbying industry as it pushes for more diversity in the tech world.

Caucus Chairman G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldBickering Democrats return with divisions Congress must protect kidney disease patients during the COVID-19 pandemic The time for HELP is now: Senate should pass bill to expedite recovery following natural disasters MORE (D-N.C.) said at a Thursday event that the caucus would like to see technology companies hire more African-Americans in Washington.

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The CBC, he said, plans to “focus more intently on the African-American representation within the government affairs offices of the technology companies that have plenty of available talent in Washington, D.C."

Major tech companies have established formidable lobbying operations in Washington in recent years. Google spent more than $16 million on lobbying last year, up from less than $1 million 10 years prior. Newer ventures including Facebook and Twitter have also expanded their presence in D.C.

The larger focus on lobbying offices is one of the ways the black caucus is expanding its Tech 2020 initiative, which launched earlier this year and included a visit by CBC members to Silicon Valley in July.

The group plans to extend it diversity push to other parts of the economy that deal with technology, including the telecom and financial services industries.

Butterfield said the CBC is especially concerned about the ways companies give an advantage in the hiring process to people who know current employees.

“This practice of rewarding people who have connections in the company reinforces a lack of diversity, since the current employees are not diverse,” he said.

Internal data shows that tech companies have struggled to diversify their workforces. Black employees make up only 1 percent of the technical workforce at Google and Facebook. At Apple, black employees make up 7 percent of the technical workforce.

The number of black employees working nontechnical jobs, though often higher than the number in technical roles, is also low. Just 4 percent of Google’s nontechnical workforce is black, and an additional 4 percent is Hispanic.

Butterfield rejected the idea that the diversity numbers were solely the result of a flaw in the pipeline that channels young people to tech companies, a notion that Thursday’s event aimed to rebut.

“Companies can no longer, in our opinion, stand on the crutch that the lack of a talent pipeline is the reason that they have failed to significantly include African-Americans in technology,” Butterfield said.

In concert with the CBC, seven professional organizations for black workers announced commitments to do more to connect black workers or board members with the tech sector. All have released plans, developed with the caucus, detailing what their efforts will be in 2016.

Butterfield, who spoke at the event along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), promised that the next year would be a significant one for the program.

“If you like what you’ve seen so far,” he said, “just wait until you see what’s to come.”