SXSW talk: Rev. Jesse Jackson on innovating diversity and inclusion in tech

Van Jones from #YesWeCode interviews Rev. Jesse Jackson in a SXSW Interactive panel about innovating diversity and inclusion in tech on Tuesday, March 17. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Date: 11 a.m., Tuesday

The gist: On a diversity in the technology industry panel at South by Southwest Interactive Tuesday, the story may have been less about who was there — Van Jones of the #YesWeCode initiative interviewing the Rev. Jesse Jackson — than who wasn’t. Fewer than 100 festival attendees were scattered in the large Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center, which can hold nearly 2,500. Jackson joked, “It’s not my first time at a morning session after a long night,” Jackson said at the start of the presentation. Interviewer Van Jones pointed out to the small audience the ways that Jackson has been pushing tech leaders such as Google and Apple to be more inclusive in hiring practices. Many people, he said, don’t know that Jackson successfully led the effort to get Silicon Valley tech companies to release diversity numbers, which appears to be leading to changes. “It revealed what we suspected,” Jackson said, “that the deck has been stacked against women and people of color.” Jones also tied in Jackson’s civil rights work in Selma, which has gotten attention of late due to the Oscar-nominated film “Selma” and the recent march there to commemorate the movement.

Takeaways: In about eight years, we're going to have a shortage of about a million tech workers needed in this country. Fostering talent from historically black and Latino universities is essential to meet that gap. Not all these jobs are strictly tech jobs, but they are positions the tech industry needs. Jackson believes there should be an effort to forgive student loan debt as a stimulus effort and that early access to technology for everyone is necessary. "We must make access to this technology a crusade for everyone, not just for the few."

Session hashtag: #RevJackson

Photo by Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN