For Hank Williams, an entrepreneur based in New York, building a more diverse Silicon Valley isn’t just an economic or moral issue. There are more pressing reasons, ones that no one in the industry or anywhere else likes to talk about.

“The problem is, the innovation economy is the economy,” he told me recently. “If all the significant growth that we expect going forward is coming from fields in which vast blocks of people have no participation or engagement, then we are heading for trouble.”

“If you think Occupy Wall Street is a troubling sign of dissatisfaction around wealth distribution,” he added, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Williams, a startup veteran who lived through the dotcom boom, who is most recently founder and CEO of a cloud services company called Kloudco, had for years become accustomed to being the only black man in the room. In 2012, he decided he would try to fix that. With backing from a prominent group of supporters, including Google, Microsoft, and philanthropist Shahara Ahmad-Llewellyn, Williams started Platform, a non-profit and annual summit dedicated to diversifying the “innovation economy.”

The latest diversity numbers from that economy—and repetitive comments by executives at top tech companies—demonstrate sluggish progress. Last year at Facebook the percentage of Hispanic employees in the US remained flat, at 4 percent, as well as for blacks, at 2 percent. (White employees account for 55 percent of Facebook’s employees in the US, while Asians represent 36 percent.) At Google, where 60 percent of employees are white and 31 percent Asian, blacks make up 2 percent and Hispanics 3 percent of the workforce—numbers unchanged since last year.

Minorities aren’t just vastly underrepresented in technical positions in the country’s fastest growing sectors, they’re also often paid less than their white counterparts.

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Written by Daroda Cuba

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