updated 07:46 pm EDT, Wed March 19, 2014
Praises initial efforts, but points out glass ceiling in Silicon Valley
A new campaign spearheaded by Reverend Jesse Jackson's PUSH coalition has sent letters to "iconic" tech firms -- including Apple, Facebook, HP, Google and others -- aimed at raising awareness of the lack of racial diversity at the top tiers of management. There are, Jackson notes in the letter, no African-Americans currently sitting on the boards of any Silicon Valley firms, and very few women or minorities reach the upper executive ranks.
Jackson praised the "enlightened values" of the tech companies, which have gone to bat for minority communities in standard hiring practices and implemented policies that encourage diversity, but noted that when it comes to the upper echelons, non-whites and women are still scarce. "Rainbow PUSH is seeking meetings with tech leaders to address these [issues] head on," he writes.
Taking Apple as an example, the company has many minority and female employees, including some in key positions such as its head of human resources, or Communications VP Katie Cotton, both of whom report directly to CEO Tim Cook. However, incoming retail head Angela Ahrendts will be the first-ever woman to serve on Apple's senior leadership team, and current board member Andrea Jung is the only woman to have ever served on Apple's Board of Directors. Apart from HR head Denise Young-Smith and Internet Software and Services head Eddie Cue, few minorities have ascended to the highest ranks of management in the company either.
Critics would suggest that Jackson is tackling a legitimate problem the wrong way around, however. Because of societal discrimination against minorities in education and traditional fields such as banking, science, engineering and lower-level management, the pool of available minority talent for tech firms among minorities remains disproportionately small, even when firms are actively seeking such candidates. Other large institutions -- most notably Congress -- also lack representational diversity among women and minority communities.
Jackson points out, however, that minority-owned firms are also scarce in supporting roles for tech companies, such as advertising agencies, professional services and IPO or financial management. Tech firms and other businesses could foster more minority-focused scholarships in the fields in which they'd like to have more qualified candidates, for example, hire more minority-owned firms with strong qualifications, and move women and minorities into more visible leadership roles to help encourage more diversity in occupational careers -- moves the Rainbow PUSH coalition would undoubtedly like to see happen.
Apple altered its bylaws earlier this year regarding its process for choosing Board of Director candidates, vowing to "actively" seek out qualified women and people from minority groups to include in its pool of potential nominees, but did so only after pressure from shareholders. Apple CEO Tim Cook has spoken repeatedly of his interest in the issue, commenting on immigration and "foreign worker" reform in speeches, and revamping the retail VP position to cover online and social marketing as well, specifically to play to incoming chief Ahrendt's strengths from her former CEO position at fashion house Burberry. Given the stability of Apple's executive team and BOD, however, change is likely to come slowly at Apple's top levels.