Facebook sees slow progress in its latest diversity report

A man walks past a sign in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Facebook is considered an industry leader when it comes to championing a diverse workforce.

Yet despite its focused efforts to increase the number of women and people of color it employs, the social media company made little progress in achieving that goal in the last year, according to its latest diversity report.

Maxine Williams, Facebooks global director of diversity, told Mashable that while she was proud of the company’s clear commitment to hiring and retaining staff with different backgrounds, it’s become clear that intentional hiring and outreach initiatives can only accomplish so much.

“There are millions of women and minorities in this country who are not getting the opportunities they deserve.”

“There are millions of women and minorities in this country who are not getting the opportunities they deserve,” Williams said, referencing the number of women and people of color who are exposed to computer science at an early age.

To address what it views as systemic challenges to creating a pipeline of diverse talent, Facebook announced a new five-year, $15 million partnership with Code.org, an education nonprofit that provides underrepresented students with opportunities to learn computer science and programming skills.

Facebook’s annual report, released Thursday, shows that the percentage of global employees who are women increased by a single percentage point in the past year, while the percentage of black and Hispanic employees remained the same. That standstill was buoyed by the company’s modest success in placing women and people of color in senior leadership roles.

The report showed that Facebook incrementally increased the diversity of new hires for top jobs compared to the make up of existing senior staff. While black and Hispanic workers make up 3% of senior leadership staff, their share of new hires for those roles in the past year was 9% and 5%, respectively. Similarly, 27% of women currently serve in senior leadership, but the percentage of female staff who filled senior jobs during the same time period was 29%.

“These efforts are bearing some fruit and our hiring trends are going in the right direction,” Williams said.

Overall, white employees account for half of Facebook’s U.S. staff and men are two-thirds of its global workforce. Asian employees, which make up more than a third of the U.S. staff, are disproportionately represented.

For the first time, Facebook released data about employees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender or asexual. In a voluntary survey about sexual orientation and gender identity, 7% of respondents self-identified as LGBTQ. Sixty-one percent of Facebook’s U.S. employees took the survey.

Beck Bailey, deputy director of employee engagement for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said that figure was in the higher range for corporate employers.

Facebook’s struggles with diversity can be found across Silicon Valley and the larger technology industry. A report released in May by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the high-tech sector employs a larger share of white and male workers in comparison to the private sector overall. Similar anecdotal disparities have brought scrutiny to Silicon Valley hiring practices in recent years, prompting companies like eBay, Twitter, Intel and Google to publish their diversity statistics.

Facebook began sharing its data publicly in 2014, and Williams noted the success and reach of various company initiatives, including Facebook University, TechPrep and its Managing Unconscious Bias training.

Launched in 2013 with 30 students, Facebook University offered college internships this summer in business, analytics and engineering to 170 students from underrepresented groups. The company recently hired alumni members of that internship program for the first time.

Facebook also introduced TechPrep last October, a site in both English and Spanish that aims to educate parents and youth about computer science and programming. The company said more than a half million unique visitors have come to the site since its launch.

Williams, however, spoke passionately about the inherent challenges of trying to recruit from a pool of talent that she believes is not diverse enough from the outset. She noted that women receive just 18% of undergraduate degrees in computer science; that number is less than 10% for black and Hispanic graduates in the field.

Similarly, only one in four public high schools teaches computer science. While taking the Advanced Placement computer science exam has been linked to studying the subject in college, there were several states where no women or black and Hispanic people took the test in 2015, according to Facebook.

“I need people to realize how big the problem is so we can solve it together.”

Though the company uses a “diverse slate” approach, which encourages hiring managers to consider at least one candidate from an underrepresented group, Williams said it’s difficult to counteract these entrenched disparities through its own immediate, short- and long-term diversity efforts.

She added that the company was prepared to take criticism for pointing out these broader challenges as an explanation for its slow progress in diversifying its workforce.

“At this stage, I’m prepared to do that,” she said. “I need people to realize how big the problem is so we can solve it together.”

Some critics maintain that the pipeline problem is exaggerated and obscures a tech culture that is unwelcome or even hostile to underrepresented groups.

Partovi, the founder of Code.org, said that while culture certainly plays a role in sidelining women and some people of color, the pipeline problem comes down to math. Companies, he stressed, cannot reach gender, racial and ethnic parity when the number of graduates and current professionals remains significantly imbalanced.

Code.org, which has targeted underprivileged schools and students, will use much of the Facebook funding to train K-12 teachers in computer science so they can instruct their own students in the subject. Partovi believes this concerted effort, among other initiatives, offers a sustainable solution to addressing the lack of diversity in the tech industry.

“This is a national problem,” he said. “This is not just a Silicon Valley problem, and its not just a Facebook problem.”

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2016/07/14/facebook-diversity-report/