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Bringing diversity to Silicon Valley

Benjamin Jealous, former president of the NAACP. His new position is with the Oakland area firm Kapor Capitol.
Benjamin Jealous, former president of the NAACP. His new position is with the Oakland area firm Kapor Capitol.
Michael Juliano/KPCC

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Last week, Reverend Jesse Jackson led a delegation to Hewlett Packard's annual shareholders meeting where he raised concerns about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley.

Jackson joined a growing list of black leaders who are worried that technology companies aren't doing enough for minority communities when it comes to hiring and spending.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, the former NAACP president, made a dramatic announcement recently. 

He was leaving the organization to take a post with an Oakland area venture capitol firm with the goal of creating more opportunities for people of color in the tech industry.

RELATED: NAACP President Ben Jealous to step down this year

Jealous joined Take Two to talk about it.


In your opinion how bad is it when it comes to lack of diversity in the tech world?

It’s clear, it’s glaring. I’m sensing that people are taking on all the problems they can see; they’re taking on big problems but they’re also not seeing all the problems that need to be solved. And some of those problems when you solve them lead to good returns.

The problems are with the Googles, the twitters and Yahoos right?

Yes and no. Typically someone … can be locked out of the valley. The valley is unlike Detroit or big centers of business in our country, like Wall street, in that it’s recreated at a much faster pace. Things that we thought of as mainstays, say 20 years ago, have diminished greatly. Start-ups with four kids in a college dorm room now employ thousands of people.

And of those thousands only one in 14 is black or Latino, so are you saying the answer is go off and start your own business or should we be looking for ways to get more people of color in these big businesses?

I am saying both. Reverend Jackson, many other folks are very focused on how do we diversify the big companies in the Valley. That will help people get good jobs and we need to be doing it. Coming from Washington D.C. … we have 10 times as many black computer professionals in that region. So we know the Valley could be doing a lot better. But at the same time if you want to make sure that in the future the Valley is better you need to focus on the seeds and that’s what we are focusing on is opening the door to black and Latino tech founders, especially founders who are solving big social problems. We can embrace people who have great ideas that can expand really rapidly and make profits on one had but also cutting the cost, for instance, for people behind bars to communicate with their families by 90 percent.

With this push for diversity you run the risk that when an African American or Latino is hired for a tech position his or her colleagues may view it as simply a diversity hire. How do you stop that from happening?

We have to be honest about genius in this country. We are locking out millions of kids because they are born in poor white areas, millions of kids because they are born in black or Latino neighborhoods and we are short-circuiting our own future. Our country is the most diverse country in the world. We should be able to lead an increasingly flat world but we can’t and we’re falling behind in many ways because we are not being as flat as we need to be to lead that increasingly flat world.