Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson has urged technology giants to put diversity at the top of their agendas during a Microsoft shareholder meeting at which he took Satya Nadella to task for the lack of women and ethnic minority staff at the firm.
During the meeting – at which more than 400 Microsoft shareholders gathered – Jackson said the workforce in the tech industry "does not look like America" or "reflect the population... that it relied upon for success".
He said that research undertaken by his Rainbow Push Coalition group found that of the 20 tech giants the firm researched, just three of 189 board directors were African Americans, one was Latino, 153 were men and just 36 were women. On top of that, 11 of the 20 firms had all-white boards, he said.
"We issue a call to action," Jackson said at the meeting, which was transcribed by Seeking Alpha. "Now that the data has been delivered, it lists the next steps to change the face of technology: to place inclusion, diversity and innovation at the forefront of the agenda. Let's see measurable goals, targets and timetables.
"The tech industry has demonstrated that it can solve the most challenging, complex problems in the world. Inclusion is a complex problem. If we put our collective minds to it, we can solve it, too. There's nothing we can't do together. Access to technology and its boundless opportunities are this era's civil-rights imperative."
Earlier this year, a feminist group called for Nadella's head after he said that women ought to rely on karma to get a pay rise instead of asking for one, comments which he later took back.
According to Microsoft's own data, 71 per cent of its workforce are men, 61 per cent are Caucasian and 45 per cent are over 40.
Jackson urged Nadella and the Microsoft board to address the figures.
"Will Microsoft commit to annually releasing its Equal Employment Opportunities Report [EEO]?" he asked. "Will Microsoft commit to a bylaw amendment that will require an explicit and active search for women and people of colour for all future board openings? Will you consider expanding your board?"
Nadella said diversity was a "critical topic" for Microsoft and the wider tech industry.
"To me at Microsoft, there is nothing more important than diversity and inclusion," he said. "It's sort of core to everything we do. It's not something that we do on the side but it's at the core of what we do.
"And so the specifics of your question: on the first part, which is on the EEO data, since 2006 we have had demographic data that we have transparently disclosed and, in fact, last October we disclosed more additional information.
"I think that this push to get our EEO data out is a good one. So I want us to take actions. And so that one, you can consider it done by end of this month."
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