By Salvador Rodriguez
Civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson has found a new focus for his criticism: Uber. On Thursday, Jackson called on the $60 billion private tech company to become more proactive about hiring more women and minorities, starting by releasing a workforce diversity report.
Although the tech industry has been slow to ramp up its hiring of people from underrepresented groups, dozens of tech companies have made public commitments to increasing diversity. This includes the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook and others, all of which have released annual workforce reports since 2014.
Uber, along with Snap Inc. and Square, is among the biggest remaining tech companies yet to commit to such transparency. So far, it has not put out any diversity numbers. “We urge Uber to ‘lean in’ and join the ranks of technology companies that are reporting your diversity and inclusion data,” Jackson said in a note addressed to Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO.
Specifically, Jackson is calling on Uber to release its hiring numbers since 2014, its official EEO-1 government documents and the diversity of its board of directors, and to publicly detail its plans and policies for diverse hiring. Back in 2015, Jackson had already called on “tech unicorns,” an informal term for private tech companies worth more than $1 billion, to release their diversity numbers, but now he is shining the spotlight directly on Uber.
“I look forward to receiving Uber’s data, and more importantly, meeting with your top leadership at the earliest convenience on the issues outlined in this communication,” Jackson said.
Jackson, who has fought for civil rights for more than half a century, has been among the key leaders in the diversity efforts within the tech industry, purchasing stock at key companies in order to push them to become more transparent and active with their diversity efforts.
More broadly, Jackson is calling on Uber to formulate a comprehensive plan to hire diversely and commit to working with local businesses, talent and officials in Oakland. The tech company plans an expansion into that San Francisco Bay Area city for either later this year or in early 2018.
“We appreciate the attention and focus Rev. Jackson brings to these issues and look forward to continuing our discussions with the RainbowPUSH Coalition,” an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement.
Jackson is asking Uber to create a program and commitment to reflect the diversity of Oakland across its workforce, leadership and its outside vendors. Jackson has given Uber a deadline of Feb. 15 to meet these requests, although he didn’t say what will happen if it fails to respond in time.
“Change must be real,” Jackson said. “I assert that Silicon Valley and the tech industry, at your best, can be a tremendously positive change agent for the world; at your worst, you can institutionalize old patterns of exclusion and de facto segregation.”
This is not the first time Uber has been called on to be more responsive on diversity.
In September, a coalition of local Oakland groups and civil rights activists called on Uber to do much of the same before meeting with company officials to discuss possible plans of action. At the meeting, Uber said it planned on bringing 2,300 employees to its upcoming Oakland campus, and it assured the coalition that intends to work with local Oakland vendors.
“The question is: Is Uber willing to drive people, and black people in particular, out of Oakland, or are they going to sit down at the table with the community and try to be part of the solution?” said Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney at Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and California advocacy organization, just prior to the September meeting.
Orson Aguilar, president of coalition member The Greenlining Institute, said, “We support the Reverend Jesse Jackson in his call to Uber. Uber has been suspiciously quiet on their diversity data and we believe that the company is to ashamed to release their poor data.”
Although Uber works with various hiring groups that focus specifically on helping companies increase their diversity, the company has not been public about its diversity efforts. In September, the company had been on the lookout for a head of diversity after losing its previous executive, Damien Hooper-Campbell, to eBay. That listing for that position is no longer up, but it is unclear if the role was filled.