Last week, civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson showed up at Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ) annual shareholder meeting. His mission: to call out H-P, Twitter (TWTR), Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), Apple (AAPL), and other leading technology companies on the lack of diversity among their leadership teams, among other things.
While I would never even think of suggesting that Jackson seeks to profit from his actions, or that companies he shakes down – I mean “protests” – in this manner usually end up buying him off with donations and contracts, somebody should provide some facts to go along with all his colorful accusations.
After all, the politically correct media seems comfortable being led around by the collar, mimicking talking points about discrimination and “all-white” syndrome in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, spineless executives who are terrified of being labeled racists kowtow to self-serving activist bullies like Jackson. It’s truly pathetic.
What’s even more pathetic, not to mention disingenuous, is Jackson’s attempt to pass this off as a problem with the technology industry or any other industry, for that matter. There is a large disparity between the number of white versus black and Hispanic executives and board members, but discrimination is not the reason.
Truth is, those minorities make up a disproportionately small percentage of tech workers because they make up a disproportionately small percentage of high school graduates, college graduates, and those with advanced and tech-related degrees.
In my experience, technology companies bend over backwards, forwards, and sideways to find and promote minorities and women, perhaps more than they should. More and more, we hear phrases like, “Are you sure you can’t find a [black, Hispanic, woman – fill in the blank] to [promote, hire] instead?”
If there is a diversity problem in the technology industry – if Silicon Valley does have a deep, dark secret – it’s actually age discrimination.
We are in the midst of another Internet boom to rival that of dot-com era, but not if you’re over 40. Last time I checked, the median age at Facebook and Zynga was 28. At Google it’s 29. Amazon and Apple aren’t much better at 32 and 33, respectively. In case you’re wondering, the average American worker is 42.3.
Funny thing is, the average age at H-P is 41. Not only that, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an issue with diversity and inclusion there, either.
The Silicon Valley giant’s executive team boasts three women, including chief executive Meg Whitman and chief financial officer Cathie Lesjak. I don’t know where CMO Henry Gomez or CIO Ramon Baez come from, but their names imply Spanish or Hispanic descent. I think software chief George Kadifa may be from Lebanon. Executive VP Dion Weisler is from Australia. SVP Tony Prophet looks black in his bio picture, but I can’t be sure.
As if that isn’t enough, H-P says it has contracted nearly $1 billion to 500 minority-owned businesses and about half that amount to women-owned businesses in the U.S. in 2013.
Now I ask you, does that sound like a company that has a problem with diversity or do I have to hire an accounting firm to send Jackson a spreadsheet?
Look, there are plenty of high-profile and not-so-famous minority and women leaders all over the tech industry. If you want more, they’re going to have to step up to the plate and prove they’re capable, just like everyone else. At least, that’s the way it should be.
If the system fails somewhere along the line, there are certainly plenty of anti-discrimination laws on the books and attorneys ready to take up the fight -- not to mention all the HR departments and growing ranks of diversity police cracking their politically correct whips at high-tech companies these days.
But then, that’s not what any of this is about. It’s about Silicon Valley companies and the rest of corporate America having deep pockets. And as long as their executives continue to cower in a corner writing checks to activists and lobbyists, these high-profile shakedowns will continue.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, former senior executive, columnist and author of the upcoming book, “Real Leaders Don’t Follow." Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting where he advises executives and business leaders on strategic matters. Contact Tobak.