Facebook report underscores Silicon Valley's struggle for diversity

The number of minorities employed by tech giants Facebook and Google have changed little over the past year despite conscious efforts by companies to increase diversity among employees.

Eric Risberg/AP/File
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers a talk at the F8 Facebook Developer Conference in San Francisco.

Facebook’s diversity report is in -- and it is underwhelming for a company that touts diversity as “central to Facebook’s mission of creating a more open and connected world,” as stated by Maxine Williams, Facebook’s Global Director of Diversity.

Facebook’s report, released Thursday, reveals that only two percent of its US workforce is black and four percent is Hispanic, no change from numbers reported by Facebook in 2015. Only three percent of senior leadership is black, a one percent increase in the past year, and three percent is Hispanic.

Women also continue to struggle to break into the white boys’ club that is the tech industry. While it is promising that women make up 53 percent of Facebook’s non-tech workforce, women make up only 17 percent of the company’s tech workforce.

Facebook began releasing employee diversity reports to the public in 2014, along with other tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft. So far, the reports have confirmed the widespread perception that the tech industry is dominated by white male employees. In 2015, between 50-75 percent of the workforce in the industry’s top nine firms was male, and over 80 percent was white or Asian, according to Fortune. Over 60 percent of leadership at those firms is white and over 70 percent is male.

In early July, Google released a diversity report with similar results to Facebook’s report. Within Google, two percent of the workforce is black and three percent hispanic, while 59 percent is white and 32 percent Asian. These numbers are virtually unchanged from Google’s 2014 report. Google’s employees are 31 percent female and 69 percent male.

“We saw encouraging signs of progress in 2015, but we’re still far from where we need to be," Nancy Lee, Vice President of People Operations at Google, stated in an official blog upon the report's release. 

Facebook points to the low number of female and minority candidates as one of the obstacles in increasing diversity within the company. For one, early access to computer science training is still quite rare, though the field rewards it. Only twenty-five percent of high schools teach computer science.

According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, though girls make up 56 percent of all Advanced Placement (AP) test takers, only 19 percent of AP Computer Science test takers are female. Only four percent of test takers were black and eight percent Hispanic. In college, women earn 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees, but only 18 percent of Computer Science degrees.

Still, some critics argue that Facebook's blaming of the pipeline of candidates is unfounded. Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a diversity consultancy, told the Wall Street Journal, “There are a ton of opportunities to increase demographic representation in tech companies with the people that already exist in the workforce.” A 2014 USA Today study indicates that there are twice as many black and Hispanic computer science majors graduating from esteemed colleges than there are open jobs at tech firms.

However, because hiring is often reliant on personal networks (70 to 80 percent of people land jobs through networking), significantly increasing the diversity of an industry that is white and male can be difficult. Seventy to eighty percent of people are hired because of networking. In an effort to be more objective in their hiring process, some tech companies are trying out a more blind application process. Twitter and Airbnb are testing Blendoor, an app that matches companies with resumes of candidates sans name or photo. Others, like Dolby, use a blind skills assessment, giving candidates a work related problem and reviewing their solution, to remain objective. Some, like Google, are piloting combinations of the two.

Facebook’s current strategy for increasing diversity relies on investment in education. The company says it intends to grow its Facebook University Program along with its Computer Science and Engineering Lean In Circle, a community run through a partnership with LeanIn.org, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's organization. In its release of the diversity stats, Facebook also announced $15 million investment in Code.org, a nonprofit aimed at increasing access to computer science training, and continued investment in TechPrep, an online resource for future programmers.

“While there is a lot of distance to cover in the short, medium and long term, we’re moving in the right direction,” says Ms. Williams in an official Facebook blog.

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