ANNUAL MEETING: Jesse Jackson Urges Facebook To Add Minorities To Board, C-Suite

The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Facebook to include minorities on its board of directors in a brief speech prior to the question-and-answer session at the company’s annual meeting Thursday at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay in Redwood City, Calif.

JesseJackson650The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Facebook to include minorities on its board of directors in a brief speech prior to the question-and-answer session at the company’s annual meeting Thursday at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay in Redwood City, Calif.

Highlights of Jackson’s comments follow:

I speak to you today representing the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, about the need to open up a new era of growth and inclusion of African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color in Silicon Valley’s technology industry. Inclusion leads to growth, and when there is growth, everybody wins. Facebook is uniquely positioned to lead this new era.

We won’t know how good Silicon Valley can be until everybody can participate. All we ask is that everyone plays by one set of rules, and that there is an even playing field for all. It’s the moral imperative. We want mutually beneficial two-way trade. We share consumer patterns together, pay taxes together. We serve in the military together to keep our nation secure. We should share in America’s opportunity and growth together. Today, there is an imbalance — too much one-way trade, too many left out, too many gaps between the surplus and depths with cultures just are changing. Those who are left out represent money, market, talent, and location. You have technology, expertise, and resources. We can all win if we close the gaps. African-American and Latino colors will comprise a huge and fast-growing part of your customer base.

In a short period of time, minorities will comprise the new majority population in California. Technology is supposed to be about inclusion, but sadly, patterns of exclusion remains the order of the day. Let me state some facts. There are zero blacks and Latinos in the C-suites all too often. Tech powerhouses including Facebook, Apple, and Google, new media companies like Twitter, have zero blacks on their boards of directors. In the C-suites, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and far too many companies have zero African Americans on their boards or Latinos in their leadership positions in the C-suites.

At least would make a commitment to include blacks and Latinos on your board of directors? Specifically, would you agree to place a bylaw and amendment similar to Apple that will require an explicit and active search for women and people of color for all of your board openings? Will Facebook commit to a bylaw provision to mandate that women and people of color are included as part of any search for C-suite-level positions? Will Facebook commit to the inclusion of black and minority firms in all debt offerings and future financial transactions, and building pipelines for education?

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg responded to Jackson’s comments:

Rev. Jackson, it’s an honor to have you here, and we thank you for your support, your appreciation of our technology, and also your very strong words on the importance of diversity. We agree with you. We have a community that’s over 1.2 billion people around the world, and that’s an incredibly diverse community. And it is good for us, and important that the people who are building Facebook represent the community we serve fully. And that means representation of all kinds of people who have historically been underrepresented.

We’ve taken this quite seriously. Over the past year, we’ve set up our first very explicit diversity hiring and diversity program under the leadership of (Global Head of Diversity) Maxine Williams, who is here with us today. And we are in the early days of what we’re doing, but I’ll share a few words on where we’re focusing at first and where we intent to grow.

So our focus right now is really on trying to hire more people into the company, as well as grow their careers. And so we do this in three years. We have built a number of great partnerships, groups like the National Society of Black Engineers, the Hispanic Alumni of Georgia Tech, Grace Hopper for girls who code, Management Leadership of Tomorrow. And these partnerships have been great because they are really helping us get great candidates and reach out.

We set-up last summer for the first time our own Facebook U, Facebook University, which is a minority and women paid summer internship program looking for candidates who don’t necessarily already have the coding skills that we normally hire for, but people who we believe we can train. And we had a really successful summer getting people up to speeds who had great technical skills in the areas we needed them, and we’ve grown the program by 60 percent this summer.

We’re also working really hard in our internal recruiting programs. We believe, as you do, that transparency is really important. And we’re on a path to get there. We’re looking at our numbers internally. We’re seeing growth already from what we’re doing and we would like to be on a path to share them.

When it comes to board candidates, when and if our board expands, we are very committed to looking broadly, including looking at candidates with diverse backgrounds. And on minority firms, they participated in our IPO, and we continue to keep in touch with them for future opportunities.

Readers: What did you think of Jackson’s comments and Sandberg’s response?

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