TaskRabbit teams with black lawmakers to boost tech diversity

TaskRabbit teams with black lawmakers to boost tech diversity

TaskRabbit is the first company to sign on to a Congressional Black Caucus initiative to boost recruitment of African Americans in tech.

The online marketplace, which offers on-demand help with chores, released its diversity and inclusion plan Thursday, saying the hiring and retention of underrepresented groups is a priority.

TaskRabbit’s plan calls for increasing the percentage of African American employees to 13% from 11% in 2016 to reflect the population of the United States. TaskRabbit said it would also focus on the hiring and retention of Latinos and other underrepresented minorities in 2016 but did not disclose those goals.

The San Francisco company became one of the rare Silicon Valley tech start-ups with an African-American CEO last week when Stacy Brown-Philpot was promoted to the top job after serving as the company’s chief operating officer.

“I really liked that the Congressional Black Caucus had a timeline, a goal and a focus on transparency. I believe you accomplish what you measure,” Brown-Philpot told USA TODAY in an interview.

The Congressional Black Caucus launched CBC TECH 2020 last May, bringing political pressure to bear on Silicon Valley’s track record on hiring and retention of African Americans

During her three-year tenure at TaskRabbit, Brown-Philpot says she has grown ethnic diversity threefold and doubled the number of women. In one of her first official acts as CEO, Brown-Philpot says she’s formalizing those efforts.

“We were going to go public with our numbers anyway so it was a nice way to support what they were doing, especially their efforts to get tech companies to be transparent and accountable for what they are doing,” Brown-Philpot said.

TaskRabbit has a higher percentage of African Americans than many tech companies. African Americans represent 2% or less of the work forces at major tech companies in Silicon Valley and little progress has been made despite increased investment of money and resources.

Yet top universities turn out African-American and Latino computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them, a USA TODAY analysis showed. And it’s not just computer science: Minorities are also sharply underrepresented in non-technical jobs such as sales and administration, with African Americans faring noticeably worse than Latinos, according to USA TODAY research.

Critics say the predominantly white male industry runs the risk of losing touch with the diverse nation — and world — that form its customer base. At the same time, African Americans are being excluded from the nation’s fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs.

Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson has been at the forefront of pressing tech companies to make their hiring goals and their timetables to reach those goals public. Last August, the Congressional Black Caucus turned up the heat during a swing through Silicon Valley to meet with tech CEOs including Apple’s Tim Cook. At the time Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., called the dearth of African Americans in Silicon Valley just miles from her home district “shameful” and said improving the diversity of the tech industry was a moral as well as a business and economic imperative.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, said seven nonprofits have adopted an African-American inclusion program through the CBC TECH 2020 initiative but TaskRabbit is the only tech company to do so.

“We’ve been in discussions with tech companies, urging them to do the same,” he said in an email. “We look forward to this being an example for other companies to follow as they develop plans of their own.”

According to its diversity plan, TaskRabbit will add one more African-American employee this year for a total of eight. Other areas of focus will be on nurturing an inclusive corporate culture, increasing awareness of the importance of diversity and working to overcome unconscious bias in recruiting and retention. TaskRabbit says it will publicly share the results of its efforts.

– Of TaskRabbit’s employees, 37 (58%) are women, 45 (71%) are white, eight (13%) are Asian or Pacific Islander, three (5%) are Latino and seven (11%) are LGBTQ.

– Of the 25 technical employees, six (24%) are women, one (4%) is African American, five (20%) are Asian or Pacific Islander, one (4%) is Latino and three (12%) are LGBTQ.

– Of 16 managers, seven (44%) are women, one (6%) is Latino, one (6%) is African American and one (6%) is Asian or Pacific Islander.

– Of the 11 people in leadership positions, three (27%) are women, one is African American (9%), two are Asian or Pacific Islander (18%), one is Latino (9%) and one (9%) is LGBTQ.

“Our numbers look very good from my perspective, but we are not done,” Brown-Philpot said.


Brown-Philpot is an outlier in Silicon Valley. Raised by a single mother and educated in public schools in Detroit, she studied economics University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, where the tuition cost as much as her mom’s salary for one year. Brown-Philpot kept herself afloat with scholarships, a full-time job and small checks each month from her mom.

After stints at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Goldman Sachs and an MBA from Stanford University, she landed a job at Google, where she worked for nine years, holding positions in operations for search, Chrome and Google+ and as head of online sales and operations in India. While at Google, Brown-Philpot founded the Black Googler Network, which helped attract more African Americans to the company and became a template for employee resource groups at other tech companies.

Today, Brown-Philpot sits on the board of HP Inc. and leads TaskRabbit.

“This demonstrates that there are African American tech professionals who are highly qualified, ready, and willing to thrive in all facets of the tech industry,” Butterfield said. “Traditional network-based recruiting has not always worked to increase diversity. That’s why CBC TECH 2020’s focus on increasing diversity, particularly among African American candidates, is so vitally important.”

Follow USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn @jguynn


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