Jesse Jackson says African-Americans inadequately represented in tech companies

Rev. Jesse Jackson will attend an annual shareholder meeting at HP to highlight the issue

U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson is to lead a delegation to Hewlett-Packard's annual meeting of shareholders on Wednesday to highlight underrepresentation of African-Americans in Silicon Valley companies.

"Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day," Jackson has written in letters to top Silicon Valley technology companies, including Apple, Twitter, Facebook, HP and Google, according to a statement this week by rights group Rainbow Push Coalition.

HP said it looked forward to seeing Jackson at its shareholder meeting.

"While we certainly agree that diversity is an important issue in corporate America, we're puzzled by Rev. Jackson's sudden interest in HP," the company said, citing its track record in promoting minority interests.

African-Americans are inadequately represented in tech boards and senior executive positions while minority companies have also got a very small share of initial public offerings and other financial transactions, and advertising and professional services to tech companies, Rainbow Push said. Media focused on black audiences get only a fraction of the money spent on television, magazine, Internet and radio advertising, according to the coalition of which Jackson is the founder and president.

In contrast, African-Americans are large users of technology as smartphone ownership among blacks takes off. Google's Search, for example, is the number one search engine among African-Americans, according to the coalition.

"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," HP said in a statement emailed Tuesday.

HP said nearly 50 years ago it established the first minority business program in the U.S. and in 2013 it spent nearly US$1 billion with almost 500 minority business enterprises in the U.S. and an additional $500 million with women business enterprises.

The other tech companies cited by Rainbow Push were not immediately available for comment.

A number of persons of minority origins have risen to key positions in tech companies in the U.S. including Satya Nadella, the Indian-born CEO of Microsoft. John W. Thompson, the software company's new chairman of the board, who took over from Bill Gates in February, is an African-American. A number of women have also risen to the top position at companies like Yahoo and IBM.

Rainbow Push Coalition wants more to be done. "The "all-white" (and mostly male) syndrome should become a thing of the past, and the HP's, Facebook and other captains of industry must take the lead in putting it to rest," it said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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