Facebook Diversity Criticism Puts Company on Defensive

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Social media staple Facebook has been accused of glossing over internal hiring practices related to reported diversity issues within the company, as well as of falsely blaming the problem on external factors such as the public education system.

Facebook released its annual diversity report this month in which it claimed that the social media giant is looking to grow “an employee base that reflects a broad range of experiences, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, [and] abilities”.

The numbers cited in the diversity report show that 52 percent of its US employees are white, 38 percent are Asian, 4 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are black, while 67 percent of its global staff are male. New leadership hires have improved to 9 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic and 29 percent women.

While the report does show progress compared to last year’s figures, the company has continued to receive criticism from various outlets reporting on the issue of diversity.

Several critics have replied to Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams, who has said that:

“[Appropriate representation] will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system,”

She added that Facebook would pledge more money toward diversity programs. Critics, however, have claimed that the problem lies with Facebook’s hiring practices rather than with the pipeline.

In an interview with Engadget, Leslie Miley, a director for engineering at Slack who left Twitter last year over its diversity issues, said that “the pipeline problem is demonstrably false.” He went further, saying that the donating of money to diversity programs is:

“… a very poorly done PR job to gloss over the fact that while Facebook may be doing the right things externally, they’re not doing the right things internally.”

Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, meanwhile, has said that he is:

“… shocked that Facebook would continue to perpetuate a narrative that has been so thoroughly disproven by the data”.

A recent New York Times piece has cited surveys that suggest the pipeline is more diverse than Facebook and other tech companies make it out to be. According to Education Department data analyzed by Maya A. Beasley, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, there are more black and Hispanic students majoring in computer science and engineering than work in tech jobs.

However, the problem seems to lie in the fact that many of the people from minority backgrounds fall out of the pipeline somewhere in the process. As cited in Ms. Beasley’s book, Opting Out: Losing the Potential of America’s Young Black Elite, black computer science and engineering graduates sometimes pursued nonprofit or business work instead of higher paying tech jobs, having heard negative things about the culture at tech companies and having seen how few black people worked there.

According to PCmag, Facebook have stated that they are pushing “recruiters to look longer, harder and smarter for more diversity in the qualified talent pool.” The tech company also offers employee training on managing unconscious bias.

Although Facebook is currently under intense scrutiny, the diversity issue, as reported by Engadget, is one that is shared by several Silicon Valley companies, with Twitter and Google also having reported poor diversity figures.