Black lawmakers press companies on diversity during Silicon Valley trip
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are visiting Silicon Valley to push the tech industry to improve diversity.
The visit is part of the group’s Tech 2020 initiative, which calls on companies to boost the numbers of African-Americans they employ.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), whose Oakland district borders the country’s tech hub, expressed frustration with the industry’s efforts.
“Silicon Valley’s economy is booming but we still don’t have the parity and equity in terms of racial inclusion,” Lee told The Hill on Monday. “The lack of understanding of why racial equity is important is mind-boggling to me.”
Lee declined to identify the companies she was referring to.
She has been joined by other Black Caucus members, including Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), G.K Butterfield (D-N.C.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), on the trip.
The lawmakers have met with Apple and PayPal and on Tuesday will meet with representatives from other companies including Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb.
Lee said that lack of diversity is hurting companies.
“I think from a company perspective, it helps with their growth, it’s economically beneficial to have a diversity of perspectives,” she said.
“We have also moral obligation to make sure there is an equality of opportunity for everyone.”
Some lawmakers on the trip said they were beginning to see signs of improvement.
“There’s been some companies, there’s been a slide back, and some companies have seen a positive gain [in diversity],” Meeks told The Hill.
Lee said she was optimistic about new talks to encourage community colleges to train students for tech jobs that only require an associate degree instead of a four-year bachelor’s.
It isn’t the first time black lawmakers have visited Silicon Valley to air their concerns.
Lee visited Silicon Valley with Butterfield to meet with tech companies representatives last fall. At the time, they were sharply critical of what they said was limited progress and said they did not trust the industry’s assurances that it would address the issue.
In addition to diversifying their workforces, some web companies, such as Facebook and Airbnb, have also had to grapple with other problems, including discrimination on their platforms.
The hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack went viral in 2016 when African-American users shared experiences of discrimination. Airbnb has said that it has since taken steps to curb discrimination on its platform.
Facebook has run into its own issues with allowing advertisers to exclude African-Americans and other minority groups from seeing housing ads on its platform, a potential violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Facebook said it has suspended advertisers’ ability to do this.
Meeks said he believes that these companies’ initial actions are a step in the right direction.
“I think what we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. You can see where there is some small progress but there is still a long, long way to go with diversity among executives and in the c-suites,” he said.
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