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Jesse Jackson thinks Big Tech needs better diversity metrics. He’s right

Jesse Jackson thinks Big Tech needs better diversity metrics. He’s right
[Photo: Marsha Miller/Flickr]

Since 2014, many tech companies have pledged to make diversity a priority, with a number of them publishing annual reports that break down their workforce by race and gender. But civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who has previously called the push for diversity in tech “the next step in the civil rights movement,” thinks companies can and should be doing more.

“It’s time to take stock of what has been done; what has worked and what hasn’t,” Jackson wrote in a letter obtained by USA Today. “Companies must set specific, quantifiable diversity and inclusion goals, targets and timetables. Without them, the ability to measure and be accountable for progress will be difficult.” The letter, which was addressed to Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, and other tech companies, was co-signed by groups focused on making tech inclusive, like the Kapor Center.

When Jackson and company talk about offering clearer metrics, they’re referring to something I recently pointed out in Twitter’s diversity report. Many tech companies publish percentages without giving actual numbers on, say, how many underrepresented minorities have been hired or promoted to leadership positions in a given year. Twitter’s breakdown by race, for example, counted employees who had declined to report their ethnicity or race as underrepresented minorities. And according to a former employee, Google at one point categorized designers as engineers, reportedly to boost its diversity numbers for tech roles.

One way to address some of these discrepancies would be, as the letter suggests, to publish EEO-1 forms—the annual demographic reports companies file to the federal government. The letter also calls for companies to publish numbers on new hires and employee retention—broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity—as well as affirmative action initiatives and diversity and inclusion efforts.

Of course, the real solution would be to standardize methodology, which would solve for some of the blind spots in existing diversity reports and EEO-1 forms. But will tech companies go for it? If diversity advocates hold their feet to the fire, it might just be possible.

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