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Jesse Jackson To Amazon: You Need More Diversity

caption: Jesse Jackson visited Seattle on Wednesday, asking that the tech industry focus on hiring more people of color and women.
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Jesse Jackson visited Seattle on Wednesday, asking that the tech industry focus on hiring more people of color and women.
KUOW Photo/Jamala Henderson

Rev. Jesse Jackson called out Amazon during a visit to Seattle on Wednesday.

“The board of the directors is all white in 2015,” Jackson said at Northeastern University’s newest building on South Lake Union. “Our challenge is not just to point the blame, but to point out the solution. Which is inclusion.”

Jackson was in the area to encourage tech companies to add more diversity to their ranks. Without diversity, Jackson said those companies are missing out on growth.

“We didn’t know how good baseball could be, until everybody could play,” Jackson said. “Just as the best days of baseball were beyond Jackie Robinson, the best days of our work is beyond where we are today.”

His message resonated with many people in Seattle tech-related groups.

“Once you get people of color and women in these companies, the thing is, can you retain them? And that's what inclusion is about,” said Trish Dziko, executive director of the Technology Access Foundation in Seattle. The school addresses problems that keep students of color from science and tech fields.

“Do they have access to the same opportunities? Are they being tapped just like everybody else? Can they bring their whole self to the table, without being questioned every second?”

Tayloe Washburn, dean and CEO at Northeastern University in Seattle, said diversity in tech companies is critical.

“All of these companies are working in a multicultural nation and world,” Washburn said. “To the extent that their workforce, which traditionally has been pretty dominated by white males, doesn't take into account that demographic, at the front end, they're missing innovation. They're missing ideas, they're missing marketing techniques. They're going to be much less effective.”

Washburn is also a member of the Washington Technology Industry Association. He said Jackson’s last visit inspired the association to diversify its own board.

Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition have been traveling the country to highlight how few people of color work in tech.

Jackson spoke at Amazon’s shareholders meeting on Wednesday morning, where security officers protested outside for a contractor that would treat its workers better.

Jackson said said the coalition wants to get 1,000 churches on board to start tech coding camps for young people.

“How we make the argument that opening up the industry to women and people of color is not the price of doing business, but value added?” Jackson said.

“What does the ghetto, and the barrier represent? Well to those who are one-eyed quarterbacks, who can’t see the whole field, they’re missing market, money, talent, location, relationships and growth.”

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