By MICHAEL LIEDTKE
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - Retired Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson became famous for dishing out assists to his teammates during his Hall of Fame basketball career. Now, as an entrepreneur focused on minority markets, he says he is ready to help Silicon Valley hire more blacks and Latinos to diversify the technology industry's largely white and Asian workforce.
Johnson believes his own Beverly Hills, California-based company could connect major technology employers with more African-American and Hispanic engineers if they call upon him. Magic Johnson Enterprises provides financing and consulting for businesses seeking to operate in cities with large minority populations.
"We have to make sure the Apples and Googles of the world get together with others who know what they are doing and who can make a difference, whether it's myself or somebody else," Johnson told The Associated Press Wednesday. He made his remarks after appearing at a Silicon Valley conference put on by software maker Intuit Inc., one of many technology companies that have recently released reports confirming their payrolls consist primarily of white and Asian men.
The lack of diversity has embarrassed an industry that prides itself on its progressive thinking and meritocratic policies. Google, Apple and Facebook have all vowed to take steps to create workforces that look more like the overall population.
Silicon Valley has a lot of ground to make up. At Intuit, African-Americans make up just 4 percent of the workforce while Latinos represent 6 percent. It's even worse at Google and Facebook, where just 2 percent of the U.S. staff is black. Cutting across the U.S. in all industries, 12 percent of the workforce is black and 14 percent is Hispanic.
"We think it's important that our employee base reflects the customers we serve, and we aren't where we need to be," Intuit CEO Brad Smith said Wednesday. "Magic's offer? I won't be surprised if we take him up on it. He is clearly a brilliant man and he understands how to (diversify)."
Besides running his own company, Johnson also is co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks in the Women's National Basketball Association, which has the best diversity record among professional sports leagues, according to recent study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics. Johnson also is part of a group that owns the Los Angeles Dodgers in Major League Baseball.
Johnson, 55, was mentioned in the racially charged remarks that led to the NBA's ouster of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who denigrated Johnson as a bad role model for children because he had HIV. More recently, Johnson criticized Atlanta Hawks ownership and management for derogatory comments about blacks.
Unlike those situations, Johnson isn't interpreting the Silicon Valley's diversity issues as a sign of blatant discrimination.
"When you think about the leaders of these (technology) companies, they know they have to do something," Johnson said. "It's just a matter of understanding who to reach out to, who to partner with and then making sure that everybody wins. It's time to do it."