Jesse Jackson at a podium flanked by large television screens with the Microsoft logo while he speaks to an audience

Jesse Jackson and the PUSCH Coalition are on the road, challenging technology companies to release employee statistics and improve diversity hiring. Image: Marcus Felker via Flickr CC.

Jesse Jackson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. At the Amazon Shareholders meeting on June 10th he was allowed to ask the first question when the shareholders meeting moved to the Question and Answer period. Is that an honor or an insult to a civil rights leader leading an assault on the technology industry’s poor performance in diversity hiring?

Many leading companies want the right to keep their Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO-1) data private. They’re required to provide data categorized by race/ethnicity, gender, and job category yearly. Six companies went to court to protect their employment data—and they won. A judge agreed, allowing industry giants Google, Apple, Yahoo!, Oracle and Applied Materials to withhold their employment data,” reports Chris Hoenig for Diversity Inc.

His report continues, quoting Labor Department Associate Solicitor William W. Thompson II, “The companies have articulated to us that they are in a highly competitive environment in which less mature corporations can use this EEO-1 data to assist in structuring their business operations to better compete against more established competitors.”

How does one gauge a corporation’s sincerity when their promise to increase diversity is treated like a state secret? Access to employment data is imperative to monitor compliance with equal opportunity legislation. Inaction sparks response and reaction. In March 2014 Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition reacted by re-launching their Silicon Valley Digital Connections Initiative. The initiative’s goal is “to expand the participation of Blacks and people of color – commensurate with our consumer base and population – in all dimensions of the technology industry.”

Jackson’s coalition is working against a persistent institutional ignorance. Microsoft’s diversity data showed some improvement after the company released revised data after purchasing Nokia and adding its global workforce to their existing numbers. It looked like true improvement until only a few weeks later when Microsoft announced a layoff of 18,000 employees—including 12,000 from Nokia.

Jackson and his colleagues are not backing down. In his comments at Google’s Shareholders meeting on June 3, he challenged the entire technology industry to do better and make equal employment opportunities for all not simply a goal but a foundation doing good business:

“But despite your best efforts, the representation of African Americans and Latinos remain basically static. Too many technology companies have zero, or too few, women or people of color in the boardrooms and c-suites and in the workforce . . . If you put your mind to it you can certainly build a pipeline to engage African Americans, Latinos and people of color to change the face of technology.”