Jesse Jackson Presses Facebook on Tech's Diversity Problem

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has been pushing tech giants to release data about the diversity of their workforces, and Thursday was Facebook's turn.

Jackson appeared at Facebook's annual shareholder meeting in Redwood City, Calif., and he was the first to receive the microphone during a question-and-answer session.

Jackson used the time to press Facebook on a black eye for the tech industry: the lack of minorities and women in Silicon Valley, particularly at the executive level.

"Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remain the order of the day," Jackson said.


He reiterated points he made in letters he sent to tech giants including Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook earlier this year. It's part of an initiative he and his nonprofit Rainbow PUSH launched in March, and Jackson has appeared at several other tech companies' shareholder meetings this month.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg -- herself one of the few women in executive positions at major tech companies -- welcomed Jackson to the meeting, calling it "an honor" to have him and his "strong words" present.

Sandberg discussed at length new programs Facebook has launched in an effort to recruit minorities and woman. She told Jackson: "I absolutely agree" that Facebook's workforce should be as diverse as the site's user base.

But she would not grant Jackson's request for Facebook to release those workforce breakdowns publicly. (U.S. companies with more than 100 employees are required to send an annual report to the government, called the EEO-1, that categorizes their American workers by race and gender. Companies can opt to publicize the data if they want but they are not compelled to.)

"Facebook would like to be on a path" to share workforce data internally with employees, and eventually with the public, Sandberg said.

Jackson didn't push Facebook hard on that point. Several tech companies have historically fought journalists and advocacy groups seeking to make their diversity data public — but Jackson scored at Google's shareholder meeting this month, when the company announced in a surprising reversal that it would make its workforce information available starting in June.

Jackson did manage to squeeze in one last request for Sandberg on Thursday: "As I lean in, please like me on Facebook!"