The Rev. Jesse Jackson opened a question-and-answer session at Microsoft’s annual meeting Wednesday not with a query for CEO Satya Nadella but with an implied accusation. "The technology industry does not look like America," said Jackson, who dropped in on the Bellevue, Washington, meeting while on a speaking tour of the Northwest.
Jackson, who has also raised diversity concerns at Google's and Facebook’s annual meetings, called on Nadella to redouble efforts to build a workforce that includes more African-Americans and other minorities. His comments come at a time when the tech industry is facing scrutiny over the makeup of its workforce. Yahoo earlier this year revealed that only 2 percent of its headcount is black.
Jackson also called for a number of reforms at Microsoft, including more women and minorities as directors. Microsoft’s 12-member board consists of one African-American, chairman John Thompson, and three women.
Further, Jackson demanded that Microsoft release more data about its workforce and include more minority owned and women-owned companies in its supply chain. In limiting opportunities for minorities, the tech industry “is not capturing the future," Jackson said. "It's like one-eyed quarterbacks who can't see half the field."
Nadella responded that Microsoft is working on a number of initiatives to broaden its employee pool and increase transparency. “I think this push to get our [employee diversity] data out is a good one I want to take action on,” he said. “So by the end of this month we will get it done.”
Outside of the company, Jackson called for renewed efforts to encourage and fund science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs for minorities. Those programs could be paid for in part by taxing the estimated $5 trillion that tech companies have stashed in offshore accounts, Jackson said. Microsoft currently has at least $92 billion of its own assets offshore, according to regulatory filings in August.