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Jesse Jackson pushes diversity for tech companies

LOS ANGELES — The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. brought his campaign to bring more diversity to major technology companies here June 30, challenging Google to close the digital divide and to be more inclusive and diverse in it hiring practices, board leadership and in partnering with vendors.

Jackson, the founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, wants to transform Google and other tech companies, including Intel and Apple, to reflect the audience of executives and innovators who were participating in the PUSH 2020 Los Angeles – Diversity and Inclusion in Tech outreach effort held at Google’s offices in Venice.

Those participants — predominantly African American and Latino men and women — lead, direct, produce and implement projects and create content for traditional and social media platforms.

Google’s report shows African Americans and Latinos currently make up only 2 and 3 percent of the talent pipeline at Google — “but we represent trillions of dollars in consumer spending,” Jackson said.  “The report shows systemic underrepresentation.”

Although Google co-sponsored the invitation-only forum with PUSH, the landscape in the Silicon Valley industry has not changed significantly, Jackson said.

Industry data show little change in diversity has been accomplished and the tech companies have far to go.

“We can’t be apologetic; the struggle for economic justice is not over,” Jackson said. “We are heavy consumers of product, watching more than the average number of hours of TV a day. We over-index in using Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

“Once we get in, they’ll know we’re there to build, to partner. It is good for business. We represent money, market, talent and growth,” he added.

Jackson asked tech companies last month to release their diversity data by Sept. 1 and to report their company progress in becoming more diverse and inclusive.

Glenda Gill, executive director of the coalition, said PUSH sees itself as a conduit for increasing employment.

“We have challenged over 25 companies and attended four shareholder meetings to get our voices heard,” she said.

In the past, Jackson has challenged other major corporations with a presence in the black community to adopt affirmative action programs and to commit to hire more black and minority employees.

Chris Genteel, Google’s executive for diversity acknowledged that the global company has a long way to go, “but Google is committed to having a more inclusive workplace,” he said.

“We have to expand the pool of technologists to fill the millions of jobs that are expected to be unfilled by 2020,” he added. “The talent exists. We need to help prepare that long-term pipeline.”

In May, Google’s announced it would spend $150 million on its diversity initiatives in 2015, up from $115 million in 2014.

Opportunities abound in the digital space, according to Mirror Digital CEO Sheila Marmon.

“But in a lot of cases, our largest traditional media brands have been left behind,” she said. “It is up to our digital natives, the generation that feels fluent, excited and comfortable with technology, to embrace digital media to build scalable and monetize-able enterprises,” she said.

According to Navarrow Wright, founder of The Close the Divide Project, African Americans and Latinos do participate on YouTube channels, but few use the opportunity to build wealth by monetizing their content and brand.

Still, other entrepreneurs successfully use the platform and other Internet opportunities to their advantage.

Jamaal Finkley, president of Blacktree Media, said he grew to his million dollar business using YouTube and created content long before YouTube became the platform for videos.

“I am launching a Netflix animation show in August,” Finkley said.

“Just as we have little league sports, we need to have little league tech and business programs. No matter where you are in the world, you have to exist in the world of technology. This will turn the culture around,” Finkley added. Five-time Grammy Award-winning gospel music singer/songwriter Erica Campbell uses YouTube to promote and build her audience.

The Inglewood native has sold 8 million records and is developing a reality show.

“Without YouTube, I would not be able to sell records,” Campbell said.

Navarrow said people of color still face discrimination and often can’t get access to the market, advertisers, and money for their productions.

Panelists recommended a menu of ‘dos and don’ts’ to overcome the hurdles and to get ahead in the industry.

Jackson emphasized financial literacy at an early age, building a pipeline to historically black colleges which educate most black engineers and involving churches in bridging the divide.

Commenting on the “clubby environment” in the tech industry, Marmon stressed the importance of inserting oneself in the conversation in a strategic way.

“It is important to show up, identify and partner with influential people — and to bring a really good product to the table,” she said.

Finkley said “put down the excuses, don’t be scared, and don’t let imperfections stop you.”