Silicon Valley Talks About Racism, But When Will They Act?

Big tech companies have a history of offering support but little structural change

Apple
Workers boarding up an Apple store in Brooklyn during a week of protests
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
By Kirk Miller / June 4, 2020 6:30 am

While leaders in Silicon Valley denounce racism and express outrage over the killing of George Floyd, they need to look inward. Based on hiring practices and corporate action, their noble expressions may be little more than talk.

While bigwigs like Facebook, Apple and Google have released strongly-worded statements and multi-million dollar donations to non-profits and criminal justice reform groups, Wired asks: “Will one of the world’s most powerful industries translate rhetoric into action?”

As Mary-Hunter McDonnell, who researches corporate activism at the Wharton School of Business, told the magazine: “Giving money to organizations that are out on the front lines is more helpful, but it’s also to some extent passing the buck. People are tired of that.”

What some people really want to see by these huge tech companies is increased lobbying efforts and structural changes that reflect their words. For example, Alphabet and Facebook did use lobbying resources to protest the travel and immigration ban that targeted Muslim companies in 2017.

But the bigger problem might be the makeup of the companies themselves. Only 5.5 percent of hires in 2019 were Black at Google, and Black employees at Facebook only number 3.8 percent overall.

Mashable recently did some research and outreach to find ways Silicon Valley could be more helpful. Their conclusions: Recognize the tech world’s blind spots when it comes to hiring and helping the local community; make corporate leaders accountable for their later actions for the words they’re preaching now; hire more people of color; revamp both the hiring and performance review process to weed out bias; invest in black business and venture funds; and develop “progressive products” (e.g. not facial recognition software to be used by police).

And maybe this time Silicon Valley will listen, speak and also act. “I’m really big on making sure that we’re not just talking about a topic, but we’re actually doing something about a topic,” said Lisa Su, CEO of chip maker Advanced Micro Devices, in an online talk this week. “And so my conversation with some of my team is about what do we do so that we’re adding to it and not [just talking]. I think we all feel that responsibility.”

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