By Ellen McGirt
Updated: May 9, 2018 11:48 AM ET

Last week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited Silicon Valley, their third such visit since the CBC Tech 2020, a taskforce aiming to increase African American representation in tech, was launched in 2015.

CBC members Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), visited Airbnb, Apple, Lyft, PayPal, Square, and Twitter, as well as some non-profit programs seeking to address the so-called “pipeline problem.”

In light of the sector’s ongoing problems with privacy and safety, the delegation seemed prepared to do business.

“This time, we met with a lot of the workforce that works on diversity and inclusion and learned that the majority of them have been hired within just the last two years,” Lee told The Verge. “That tells me that they haven’t really thought about racial inclusion until we started really focusing on this.”

Waters was her usual direct self. “Floored” to discover that many tech companies had barely 2% black employees, she threatened legislative action. “I’m talking about using the power that our voters have given us to produce legislation and to talk about regulation in these industries that have not been talked about before,” she said. “I’m not urging, I’m not encouraging. I’m about to hit some people across the head with a hammer,” she said at a panel discussion at Lyft.

Bärí A. Williams, a legal and operations executive and StubHub and Facebook alum, suggests that the CBC should look beyond the dismal representation numbers, and ask probing questions about how employees from underrepresented groups are faring in their careers in big tech. Here’s one clue: According to a 2017 report by Recode, black and Latino employees hold only somewhere between 4 percent and 10 percent of leadership roles at seven major tech firms.

With this in mind, when concerned lawmakers scrutinize diversity at tech companies, they should look beyond the raw numbers to ask questions like: Do minorities typically have to have more accomplishments than their peers to be promoted? Do the companies enforce consistent expectations for each role? Are metrics for success clear and communicated? Are all employees given equal opportunities to achieve the goals that are required for promotion to leadership roles? Is there a concrete plan to increase diversity in leadership? All of these things make it more likely that members of underrepresented groups will be treated and promoted fairly — and that they will also be in positions to help shape its culture and its priorities.

There are a couple of indications the CBC is up to the task, at least in terms of raising some key issues. (What can be accomplished in Congress these days is anybody’s guess).

First, the delegation came with a new demand: Companies should help fund affordable housing to mitigate the damage that “gentrification” does to the under-resourced community members they’re trying to teach to code.

And they’re clearly prepared.

When given an opportunity to interview Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his recent Congressional testimony on user data and privacy issues, Rep. Butterfield showed that he spoke D&I. He took his allotted time to ask about board diversity, and if the company would publish retention numbers disaggregated by race. He then took Zuckerberg to task for his all-white leadership team. Where are his trusted leaders of color?

“Not only you and Sheryl [Sandburg], but David [Wehner], Mike [Schroepfer] and Chris [Cox],” he said, waving a printout of their bios. “This does not represent America,” he said.

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