Jesse Jackson Takes on Lack of Diversity in Technology

The civil rights icon will lead a delegation to the Hewlett-Packard annual shareholders meeting Wednesday, where blacks and Hispanics make up about one in 14 tech workers.

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Jesse Jackson

Joaquin SARMIENTO/AFP/Getty Images

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is taking a page out of the civil rights playbook as he plans to lead a delegation to the Hewlett-Packard annual shareholders meeting Wednesday. The groups intends to bring attention to Silicon Valley's and the nation's poor record of including blacks and Latinos in hiring, board appointments and startup funding, the Associated Press reports.

"Hopefully, what Rev. Jackson is doing will bring attention to the 800-pound gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It's high time that gets addressed," Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise magazine, told AP. Graves believes that Jackson is shining a light on the little discussed fact that technology companies don't come close to hiring or spending what is commensurate with the demographics of their customers.

According to the most recent census data, blacks and Hispanics make up 13.1 and 16.9 percent of the U.S. population, respectively, and about one in 14 tech workers is black or Latino both in the Silicon Valley and nationally, AP reports.

On Monday, Jackson sent a letter to tech heavyweights Apple, Twitter, Facebook, HP, Google and others, stating that "Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day."

"This is not exclusive to Hewlett-Packard," Jackson said Tuesday, adding that he was using HP's annual meeting to make a larger statement nationally and that he wasn't trying to single the company out.

AP notes that in 2011, Jackson's Rainbow PUSH, in alliance with Allstate, recognized HP for its commitment to diversity.

"While we certainly agree that diversity is an important issue in corporate America, we're puzzled by Rev. Jackson's sudden interest in HP," said HP executive vice president Henry Gomez in a statement emailed to the Associated Press.

"Today, HP is the largest company in the world with both a female CEO and CFO and nearly half of our leadership team and Board of Directors are women and minorities. Additionally, nearly 50 years ago, HP established the first Minority Business Program in the United States."

Gomez also noted that in 2013, HP spent nearly $1 billion with almost 500 minority business enterprises in the U.S. and an additional $500 million with businesses owned by women.

"We look forward to seeing Rev. Jackson at our shareholder meeting," Gomez says.

Read more at the Associated Press.

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