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Economy & Business

Big Tech Companies In Need Of A Fundamental Change To Deal With Racial Injustice

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Twitter, TikTok, Spotify and Lyft have all declared Juneteenth a paid holiday. And tech companies, including Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook, are pledging millions of dollars to support groups fighting racial injustice. Google says it wants to dramatically boost its number of black executives. But as Big Tech joins the national movement for greater racial equality, blacks in Silicon Valley are demanding more fundamental change in the industry. NPR's Bobby Allyn reports.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg says he supports Black Lives Matter. If you go to Twitter, you'll see that CEO Jack Dorsey added the Black Lives Matter hashtag. Big tech companies are writing large checks to organizations like the NAACP and the Brennan Center for Justice. That's all great, says Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a diversity consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. But for major technology companies, she says it's the easiest thing they can do.

Y-VONNE HUTCHINSON: So I think it's one thing to make a statement. It's one thing to donate. It's quite another to say, how are we going to clean up our own house? What are we going to do to make sure that we are not part of the problem?

ALLYN: The problem, Hutchinson says, is that white men have long dominated the seats of power in tech. And across all tech companies, even getting a foot in the door is especially hard for black workers. Google, for instance, is just 3% black, and about 9% of Apple employees are black. It's a pattern widely seen at small tech startups, too.

Hutchinson runs ReadySet. It's a diversity consulting firm for tech companies. She says step one is hiring more black people, but that's just the beginning.

HUTCHINSON: Silicon Valley still has this idea of culture fit, which is incredibly nebulous. What does it mean to fit into a culture? But it does work to exclude people.

ALLYN: Aniyia Williams is executive director of Black & Brown Founders. She says to black tech workers, this moment of reckoning about racial equity is like a really bright light suddenly being flipped on in a dark room.

ANIYIA WILLIAMS: The rest of us - black folks, especially - like, we've been living in this very bright room for a very long time.

ALLYN: Evelyn Carter sees this as a significant time. She's the director of training at Paradigm IQ and helps tech firms become more welcome to people of color. She's heard black tech workers call the lip service companies are giving to racial justice as just a performance.

EVELYN CARTER: For those who are calling it racial theater, I think what we're missing is that there's an opportunity to say, well, if an organization is putting out a statement where they think black lives matter, then you can hold them accountable.

ALLYN: A list has been circulating among black tech workers, documenting every statement from tech companies in support of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter and racial justice. That list is already more than 200 entries long.

CARTER: In five or six years, your company should look fundamentally different because you listened to your black employees. You have done the hard work to make sure you are recruiting, retaining and promoting a diverse group of talent.

ALLYN: So when Apple's Tim Cook writes that the company is reexamining its views and actions, quote, "in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored," Carter says she's going to make sure that examination never ends. Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.