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The Technology 202: Uber and Airbnb publicize diversity hiring targets

with Tonya Riley

More tech companies are publicizing diversity hiring targets for the first time.  

Uber is the latest to do so, announcing it would double the number of its black leaders by 2025, both by hiring and bolstering the careers of existing employees. 

“As a company that powers movement, it’s our goal to ensure everyone can move freely and safely, whether physically, economically or socially,” Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a blog post. “To do that, we must help fight the racism that persists across society and be a champion for equity, both inside and outside our company.”

Airbnb earlier this summer promised that 20 percent of its board of directors and executive team, collectively, will be people of color by the end of 2021.  

The announcements mark a growing shift in the tech industry. 

Many companies for years have released diversity reports detailing their demographic makeup, often breaking out details about racial representation across technical and leadership roles. But now they’re taking it a step further by pulling the curtain back on their hiring goals — and setting clear deadlines for hitting them.  

“There's no way in the absence of a goal to understand if you fall short, why you fell short and what assumptions you made,” said Karla Monterroso, the chief executive of the diversity nonprofit organization Code2040. “You can just keep going in a hamster wheel if you don't have a goal. So in that, I do think that move is progress.”

The announcements follow broader pressure on the tech industry to diversify, as the killing of George Floyd in police custody earlier this year prompted a national reckoning over American race relations. Many Silicon Valley companies have responded by releasing statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, with promises to address racial inequities both inside their companies and in the services they build. 

Monterroso said it's “way too early to tell” if the recent wave of diversity commitments will result in lasting change in the industry. 

“Putting the stake in the ground is the easiest thing to do,” she told me. “Holding people to that stake in the ground is a much harder thing.” 

The public goals could make it easier to hold companies accountable to their aggressive promises. 

Now employees, shareholders and the media now have a clear benchmark to hold the companies' hiring against, Monterrosso told me. 

But diversity experts warned there are some key downsides.  

It’s unclear if these companies have the policies and culture in place to support people of color after hiring them. Nicole Sanchez, managing partner and founder at Vaya Consulting, warned that diversity programs could be mismanaged in the same way as affirmative action on some college campuses. She said recently hired or promoted employees could have to confront the myth that the company is “lowering the bar” by setting aggressive hiring goals, she said. 

“I am concerned that companies don't understand how to mitigate the potential harm they do to those people they are hiring under these new initiatives,” she told me in an interview. 

She also warned that companies may not be prepared for the ways increasing the number of diverse employees could change their existing culture, and warning company leaders need to prepare.

“Companies that say they want to diversify will diversify and then be shocked at how the company is being asked to change,” Sanchez said. 

Companies have previously seen pushback from existing employees to similar efforts.  

Monterrosso said any time a company embarks on efforts to diversify its culture, it can be met with resistance. 

“If you have not started the work of inclusion early in your life cycle, you have inevitably hired people who are not going to view this as a priority and who are going to view this adversarially, at a minimum,” she said. 

Those tensions could be intensified during a pandemic, particularly at companies where the workforce is contracting due to the economic downturn. Both Airbnb and Uber have laid off employees in recent months. Some experts are skeptical about the companies' ability to hit their diversity goals, especially given the struggles confronting the ride-hailing and travel industry at the moment. 

 Melissa Thomas-Hunt, head of global diversity and belonging at Airbnb, said the company remains “unwavering” in its diversity commitments. 

“These efforts demand a laser focus and we know that building a workforce that reflects the world and the local environments is not just about who we invite into the company, but how we ensure that people of all backgrounds, identities and experiences are able to thrive because they are made to feel respected, valued and able to contribute at their highest level at our company,” she said in a statement. 

But Sanchez remains wary of companies that are very public about their diversity work. 

“The companies that are doing this thoughtfully and methodically right now are very quiet about it because they would like to celebrate once they hit those milestones,” she said.

There's some precedent for tech companies to release goals like this. 

Twitter in recent years has been including hiring goals in its diversity reports, and says they've contributed to progress. Since workforce targets were introduced in 2018, the company's global female representation has increased by 4.1 percentage points, and U.S. representation  of black and Latinx employees has increased by 2.4 and 1.5 percentage points, respectively

“While goal setting has been a point of controversy in diversity and inclusion, we know representation targets work, because we’ve seen it in action,” Twitter spokeswoman Catherine Hill said in a statement. “The introduction of workforce representation targets were a catalyst to increased investment, organizational alignment, transparency and accountability.”

But some companies have struggled to hit their goals. 

Pinterest was the first company to publicize diversity hiring goals in 2015. The rollout was controversial because the company had previously missed hitting some of its publicly announced goals; the company for the first time this year exceeded all of its hiring targets.

More diverse hiring is is no panacea for the problem, however. Black women who previously worked at the company have accused Pinterest of racial discrimination. 

Our top tabs

Microsoft President Brad Smith met with the House antitrust subcommittee. 

The longtime executive discussed concerns about the way Apple operates its app Store during a virtual meeting with lawmakers several years ago, The Information's Christopher Stern and Nick Wingfield report. They discussed the ‌app Store‌'s approval processes and the 30 percent cut that Apple takes from app purchases and subscriptions. 

European regulators are also currently probing the app store for antitrust-related concerns. Microsoft is no stranger to antitrust scrutiny itself, and the conversation comes as the chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are expected to testify in front of the subcommittee next week. 

Smith previously called for greater regulation of app stores at a Politico event

“The time has come - whether we are talking about D.C. or Brussels - for a much more focused conversation about the nature of app stores, the rules that are being put in place, the prices and the tolls that are being extracted and whether there is really a justification in antitrust law for everything that has been created,” he said. 

Phone companies temporarily shut down a test run of President Trump's text message program over spam concerns.

Cellular providers' spam monitors took the voter outreach program offline after the campaign sent out more than 1 million pro-Trump fundraising messages over the Fourth of July weekend, Alex Isenstadt and John Hendel at Politico report

The program wasn't back up for five days, during which White House senior adviser Jared Kushner reached out to Verizon and T-Mobile executives to restore the it. Republicans are concerned about the consequences of a repeat shutdown closer to Election Day, when the program will be used to drum up turnout. 

Politico estimated the campaign lost millions of dollars in potential fundraising during the outage. 

The outage also fueled ongoing allegations that Big Tech is working against Trump's reelection. 

“They’re all working to get out the vote, so to see telecom come down and prevent any campaign or organization from getting out the vote is troubling,” Tim Cameron, a digital strategist who has worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said.

But it was third-party administrators, not the companies, that flagged the program as spam, Politico reports. 

Democrats have also run into issues with peer-to-peer texting programs, which have been caught up in ambiguous regulations of robocalling. The Federal Communications Commission more recently ruled that peer-to-peer texting is not spam so long as the texts are sent individually. 

Governments want Google to stop requiring users to turn on location tracking to use coronavirus apps. 

A growing number of countries who use the software to support contact tracing are concerned the requirement undermines Google's promises to respect user privacy, Natasha Singer at the New York Times reports

Google's virus tracing software uses Bluetooth, not location data. However, Google's Android operating system requires phones to turn on location data as part of its Bluetooth scanning. Apple does not.

Some governments worry Google may misuse the loophole to access users' precise locations. Both Latvia and Switzerland have pushed the company to change its requirements. 

“Users should be able to use such proximity tracing apps without any bindings with other services,” said Dr. Sang-Il Kim, the department head for digital transformation at Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health, said.

Google spokesman Pete Voss says that apps could not access the location data without user permission.

The privacy clash could also contribute to further delays in the United States. No states that have committed to using Google's software have actually deployed coronavirus apps yet, Mohana Ravindranath at Politico reports:

Industry news

Amazon-backed autonomous vehicle startup Aurora is expanding in Texas. 

The move highlights the company's shift from robo-taxis to truck fleets, The Verge reports. The new Austin office will boast a staff of about two-dozen. 

Texas has pushed for autonomous vehicles in the state, leading to a boom of driverless car operations. In addition to Aurora, Ford, Uber and Waymo all run tests in the state. Elon Musk has also made a bid to bring Tesla's new Cybertruck factory to the state, which has more relaxed labor laws than California.

Driverless cars have taken on new importance during the coronavirus pandemic when interactions with human drivers can pose health risks. Amazon, an investor in Aurora, recently acquired self-driving car firm Zoox to build out its last-mile delivery infrastructure.

Rant and rave

Office culture in 2020:

Coronavirus fallout

Uber is offering public health officials contact tracing help. 

The company is sharing data it collects on drivers and riders presumed to have come in contact with someone infected with covid-19, Reuters reports

Uber has collected the data for months, but most states with contact-tracing policies do not use ride-hailing data to track the spread. 

The data could provide a better picture of the spread, experts say. 

“This data could be potentially lifesaving in cities where many people use those services,” said Mieka Smart, an epidemiology professor at Michigan State University and a member of the covid-19 contact tracing work group in Flint.

Hill happenings

Sen. Ron Wyden wants to make it easier for Hong Kong tech workers to immigrate to the United States.

The Oregon Democrat's new legislation responds to China's sweeping new national security law that puts the semi-autonomous territory's residents under the same censorship laws as mainland China. He wants to fast-track residency and immigration for Hong Kong citizens who could be subject to political persecution under the law. 

The bill would punish the Chinese government by incentivizing the best and brightest of Hong Kong to work in America and contribute to the U.S. economy,” Wyden said. 

The bill would give priority to STEM degree holders and business owners with more than 50 employees. That could create favor for the bill in the tech industry, which is increasingly reliant on foreign talent.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) introduced a companion bill last month.

More Hill news:

House votes to ban TikTok on federal devices (Politico)

Privacy monitor

Hey wants to bring back privacy to your email for $100 a month.

"Hey hasn’t totally cracked it, but it’s a welcome throwback to an era where our digital tools weren’t limited by a few giant corporations driven to mine our personal information," columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler writes.

One of the unique features Hey offers over competitors is the ability to screen senders before they hit your inbox. Hey also promises not to mine your email data for advertising or other purposes, which could appeal to users wary of Big Tech.  

But there are downsides to the service, starting with the $100 dollar price tag. For instance, if you're looking for more privacy ProtonMail provides encryption free. 


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  • The Senate Commerce subcommittee on manufacturing, trade, and consumer protection will hold a hearing on protecting Americans from coronavirus scams today at 2:30 p.m.
  • RightsCon will take place online on July 27-31.
  • The Senate Commerce Internet Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine the state of United States spectrum policy Thursday at 10 a.m.

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