Facebook makes scant progress on diversity by Jessica Guynn

Facebook makes scant progress on diversity by Jessica Guynn

Facebook’s third diversity report in two years shows its demographics have shifted very little, with African Americans and Hispanics still comprising a tiny fraction of the tech giant’s workforce.

Hispanics represent 4% and African Americans 2% of Facebook’s U.S. workers, percentages that have not budged since 2014 and that fall below other industries’ averages. Facebook has made slightly more progress on gender diversity, yet nearly seven out of 10 employees around the globe are men.

The report, coming weeks after similar results from Google, raises serious questions about the technology industry’s progress in addressing the chronic shortage of women and minorities.

Facebook blamed the lack of available talent, but observers disagreed.

“As with anything, I would say if you are trying to accomplish something and you make no visible progress, then what you are trying is probably not working,” said Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, a strategy firm that consults with technology companies on diversity and inclusion.

Of Facebook’s technical workers, Hispanics still make up 3% and African Americans 1%. The percentage of African Americans working in non-technical positions increased to 5% from 3%, while the percentage of Hispanics remained unchanged at 7%, Facebook said.

African Americans in senior leadership positions at Facebook increased to 3% from 2%, with Hispanics holding steady at 3%. Facebook’s global diversity chief Maxine Williams says Facebook’s leadership hires over the last 12 months show improvement — 9% were black, 5% Hispanic — an example she says of “good signals” Facebook is seeing.

“That has given me a signal that a lot of the short-term initiatives that we have put in place have been working,” Williams said.

Williams would not release any other hiring data. “We are still tracking all of it,” she said.

Facebook released its diversity numbers for the first time in 2014, following the lead of Google. Since then there has been a flurry of diversity reports from major technology companies, which are working on a range of initiatives to create more inclusive hiring and retention practices and policies and more inclusive work cultures. So far, these efforts have yielded few results.

How long before they do? In an interview, Williams says it could be years, even decades, before any dramatic change takes place.

Williams cited a recent study from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org that found women are moving ahead so slowly that it will take more than a century for them to reach parity in top positions in corporate America.

“I hope that is not the case in the tech industry,” Williams said. “I hope the entire country joins with us…and we will be able to see more change sooner.”

The latest diversity figures show that Facebook is making slight progress with women. Sixty-seven percent of global employees are men, down from 68% last year. Women now account for 53% of non-technical workers, up from 52%. Women in technical positions are inching forward, making up 17% of those workers, up from 16% last year. Of senior leaders, women now make up 27%, up from 23%, Facebook said. Twenty-nine percent of leadership hires over the past 12 months were women.

Williams’ contention: Addressing demographic disparities in Facebook’s workforce depends on the nation educating more young people in the skills needed in the technology industry and increasing exposure to the industry in underrepresented communities. For instance, to see a 50/50 split in women and men in computer science jobs would require far more women getting the skills in college or by other means. To that end, Facebook says it will give $15 million to non-profit Code.org to train young people how to code.

“It’s hard to know when we will be where we want to be because I don’t know when these fixes will start to take root,” Williams said.

Facebook and other tech companies say their efforts to recruit women and minorities are being stymied by a “pipeline” problem: not enough women and underrepresented minorities studying computer science or pursuing other tracks to work for tech companies.

Yet top universities turn out African-American and Latino computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading tech 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.

That lack of diversity is magnified in Silicon Valley, according to a recent report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Women, Hispanics and African Americans make up 30%, 6% and 3% of employees in the top 75 tech companies there, the report found. Those percentages were far lower than other private-sector employers in the area.

“Facebook’s 2016 data reflect the disconcerting lack of progress by Silicon Valley companies,” said Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader who has pressed the tech industry to hire more women and underrepresented minorities. “There is no talent deficit but an opportunity deficit. There is a pipeline of qualified board members. There is a pipeline of C-suite leaders. There are more black computer science students than are being hired.”

Jackson said he would seek to meet with Facebook.

“As innovative and creative as they are, this reflects less than their best effort,” Jackson said. “What we need is a plan they will honor.”

Saying having greater diversity is “central” to its mission, Facebook has undertaken a range of initiatives to boost representation of women and underrepresented minorities. In the short-term, that includes taking steps to attract more diverse candidates and create a more inclusive work culture including unconscious bias training that nearly 100% of managers and 75% of U.S. employees have taken.

Medium-term, Facebook is expanding Facebook University, a training program focused on college students from underrepresented groups, and continues to work in collaboration with LeanIn.org, LinkedIn and the Anita Borg Institute on a program to support female college students who show an interest in computer science.

For the long-term, Facebook is promoting TechPrep, an online resource in English and Spanish for parents, guardians and kids who want to learn more about computer science and programming, and it’s making the investment in Code.org, Williams said.

A new step for Facebook this year was to release information on the gender identity and sexual orientation of its workforce. A voluntary survey of U.S. employees showed 7% identified as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender or asexual, higher than the 4% who identified as being LGBTQ in a recent Credit Suisse survey of 270 companies with openly LGBTQ staff as leaders or senior managers. Facebook said 61% of employees responded to the survey.

The statistics on other fronts were mostly static. More than half — 52% — of Facebook employees in the U.S. are white, while Asians make up 38%. Last year it was 55% and 36%


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