Obama Presidency Transformed a Nation — But Not Silicon Valley | Commentary

Posted October 6, 2014 at 6:23pm

As one of the most historically significant events for African-Americans, the presidency of Barack Obama, winds down, our community has a chance to reflect on the progress we have made — and the work we still have to do. The achievement of our first black president, remarkable though it was, should not blind us to the difficult obstacles we must still overcome. In too many areas of society, from the economy to culture, African-Americans are still on the outside looking in.

The economic disenfranchisement of the African-Americans remains one of the most persistent obstacles for our community to surmount. Although the country as a whole has seen the unemployment rate drop to 6.1 percent, blacks still struggle with a rate of 11.4 percent. Median income for African-American households is more than $20,000 lower than their white counterparts.

These numbers will only get worse as the best jobs in our economy require even more specialized skills. The diversity situation in the tech industry is a prime example. Despite the fact that the vast majority of these firms are located in California, one of the nation’s most diverse states, almost all of them employ scant numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics. Google, now one of the world’s largest and most powerful companies, is only three percent black and two percent African-American. Other major firms such as Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter have percentages that are virtually identical.

Inversely, these firms tend to hire minorities disproportionately to fill their lowly paid service positions. Silicon Valley’s landscapers, janitors, and security guards, the so-called “invisible workforce,” are overwhelmingly black or Latino. Furthermore, salaries for these positions are less than a quarter than that of a tech worker.

The image is inescapable. Highly paid white tech workers work innovative jobs on immaculately groomed campuses with high-end food attended to by minority workers that see none of these benefits. As the types of jobs that companies like Google provide proliferate throughout the economy, African-American workers are at risk of being frozen out of the most productive and fulfilling industries of the 21st century.

Google and others must make it a top priority to hire and prepare the next generation of minority workers to be serious and tangible stakeholders in their corporate success. The current white male dominated Silicon Valley workforce is marginalizing huge swathes of the population capable of substantial contributions to the tech landscape. In order to ensure that African-Americans are fully integrated into the next generation of our economy, the black community should focus on a cooperative effort with Google and other tech companies to get minorities trained and hired into their workforces.

African-Americans may have finally ascended the presidential peak, but many more mountains remain for us to climb. Given the central role Silicon Valley plays in the life of this country and our community, focusing attention on bringing diversity to the tech industry can be a substantial step in bridging the economic and social divide that still hurts African-Americans nationwide. There is much to gain, for our community and theirs, in a diverse partnership for the 21st century.

Dr. Robert Waterman is the president of the African American Clergy and Elected Officials.