Over the past year, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has been pushing for more diversity in Silicon Valley, urging companies to reveal the number of women and minorities in their ranks and to add African Americans to their boards, and showing up at shareholder meetings to press his cause.
But on Tuesday, Jackson had mostly words of praise for Apple and its chief executive, Tim Cook, when he spoke at the tech juggernaut’s annual investor meeting. “Silicon Valley – and African American and Latino communities — are looking for leaders, leaders who will step forward as the Dr. King or John Lewis of this era,” Jackson said at the company’s meeting, according to prepared remarks shared with OnLeadership. “Tim Cook and Apple, I believe, have the vision, commitment and courage to help usher in a new era of diversity and inclusion.”
The remarks came the same day Fortune reported that Apple would be investing more than $50 million into partnerships in an attempt to get more African Americans, women and, eventually, veterans working in the technology industry. The investment includes committing more than $40 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a nonprofit supporting students in public, historically black colleges and universities, Fortune reported. The money will be used to establish a database of computer science majors at these schools, train students and faculty, as well as offer scholarships and a paid internship.
In an interview Tuesday with OnLeadership, Jackson called the investment “a big deal:”
“This is a burst of light in a very dark period,” he said. Jackson praised Cook's leadership, saying that the CEO "understands the dynamic of change where a lot of people do not."
Jackson also lauded the company’s recent announcement that it plans to make some of its contracted security guards full-time employees, complete with the company's cushy benefits. "That was a big victory for the workers, to bring them in house and treat them with the same protections," Jackson said. He said he believes that as shareholders see "inclusion not as a cost of doing business or as an imposition but as beneficial to their interests," more companies will follow suit. The company also said this week it will be giving raises to the drivers of its commuter shuttle buses.
In an e-mailed statement, Apple said it decided to directly hire security guards following "a comprehensive, year-long review," and said that in addition to the raise for the shuttle drivers, it plans to offer them premium pay when they work split shifts (separate morning and evening periods), as well as improve their break and rest areas. The decisions come after picketing at Apple headquarters last December in support of the security guards, reports about the wage inequality faced by low-paid service workers amid Silicon Valley's wealthy techies, and efforts by service workers in the Bay Area to unionize. Last Fall, Google said it planned to hire security guards as full-time workers.
While Jackson had plenty of praise for the steps Apple has taken toward diversity, such as its inclusion of minority firms in a recent debt offering, the release of its workforce diversity data, and the naming of two African American women to top leadership -- in addition to the new initiatives -- he also outlined a few requests. In his remarks, Jackson appealed to the company to release its data on women and minorities annually, set goals and timetables for reaching diversity objectives, and appoint an African American to the company's board.
During the meeting, Cook agreed he wants the company's diversity to improve, USA Today reported, saying that while "the recruiting process takes time," people should "rest assured, we get it." An Apple spokeswoman said the company had no further response to Jackson's remarks.