Facebook Criticized for Blaming Poor Diversity Numbers on ‘Pipeline Problem’

Facebook Criticized for Blaming Poor Diversity Numbers on ‘Pipeline Problem’

Facebook dropped its latest diversity report last Thursday, showing that it hasn’t made much progress in the past year. Reuters runs down the numbers:

Facebook Inc said about a third of its workers are females, while black employees accounted for 3 percent of its U.S. senior leadership, both numbers only slightly higher than a year earlier. … Women represented 33 percent of Facebook’s global workforce, according to data from June 30, compared with 32 percent a year earlier. Women held 27 percent of senior leadership roles, up from last year’s 23 percent.

Facebook said 3 percent of its senior leadership in the United States was black, up from 2 percent a year earlier. Latino and black workers made up 4 percent and 2 percent of Facebook’s U.S. workforce, unchanged from last year. Asians represented 38 percent of Facebook’s U.S. workforce and 21 percent of its senior leadership. The majority of Facebook’s global tech employees, at 83 percent, are men, down marginally from last year’s 84 percent.

In a blog post addressing the report, Facebook’s global director of diversity Maxine Williams pointed to the “pipeline problem”—that is, the relative dearth of women and minorities pursuing education in STEM fields—as a main culprit for the slow pace of change:

It has become clear that at the most fundamental level, appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system. Currently, only 1 in 4 US high schools teach computer science. In 2015, seven states had fewer than 10 girls take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam and no girls took the exam in three states. No Black people took the exam in nine states including Mississippi where about 50% of high school graduates are Black, and 18 states had fewer than 10 Hispanics take the exam with another five states having no Hispanic AP Computer Science (CS) test takers. This has to change.

Not everyone is satisfied with that explanation. Talking to Damon Beres at the Huffington Post, Leslie Miley, the director of engineering at Slack who has made a name for himself as an unfiltered critic of Silicon Valley’s approach to diversity and inclusion, calls it an “insult”:

Facebook has pledged to do better. Black representation in non-tech roles grew from 3 percent last year to 5 percent now. And the company is promising $15 million (or .004 percent of the company’s $336 billion market value today) to the nonprofit Code.org for computer science education over the next five years. Code.org has supplied training and resources to public schools for years, but it also offers unconventional online courses that anyone can access if, say, they aren’t in a position to take an AP test. “Are you going to make a commitment to hire from these programs?” Miley said.

In response to Miley’s criticisms, a Facebook spokeswoman told HuffPost that the company aggressively markets its Facebook University program to colleges across the United States as a means to serve “underrepresented communities.” Facebook University is a sort of pre-internship program for students to enroll in after their freshman year of college, and it’s open to people without strong computer science backgrounds. It’s paid, with housing and meals provided by Facebook.

The spokeswoman would not say how many students from Facebook University or the company’s other internship programs are ultimately hired full-time by the social network. But she said Facebook University has grown from 30 students to 170 in recent years.

Another expert tells Wall Street Journal reporter Georgia Wells that the pipeline really isn’t the main problem:

“There are a ton of opportunities to increase demographic representation in tech companies with the people that already exist in the workforce,” said Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a diversity consultancy that works with many Silicon Valley firms. She added that there are more black and Hispanic computer-science graduates than are offered jobs with tech firms in the U.S.

At NewCo Shift, Kaya Thomas, a computer science student at Dartmouth College and a technical mentor at Black Girls Code, vents her frustration with major tech employers’ seeming unwillingness to deal with the deeper cultural problems that make the sector difficult to penetrate for black Americans in particular:

According to most tech companies, if I can’t pass an algorithmic challenge or if I’m not a “culture fit” I don’t belong. I haven’t even started my first full-time job yet and I’m already so tired of feeling erased and mistreated by the tech industry. I’ve worked so hard to make myself visible over the last few years so it hurt me to see Facebook make such false statements. What more must students of color do to make it clear that we are qualified to be in this industry?

I wish that tech leaders would just be honest and admit that they’ve made tech culture so exclusive and toxic. Ignoring the fact that underrepresented talent exists shows me that they don’t care about diversity and they don’t want us working in tech.

Reacting to the report on Twitter, Charity Majors, a former hiring manager at Facebook, comments that in her time there, she observed a strong contrast between Facebook’s self-perception as a socially conscious employer and a hiring process that doesn’t ultimately reflect that:

Curiously, Google released similarly disappointing diversity numbers at the beginning of July, which also came in for criticism, but nothing like the backlash Facebook attracted by pointing to the pipeline problem:

Google’s overall percentage of non-white, non-Asian employees in the United States did not move at all in 2015 from the year before, remaining at 2 percent for African Americans, 3 percent for Hispanics, 3 percent for multiracial individuals and less than 1 percent for Native American and Pacific Islanders, according to the company. Women made up 31 percent of Google’s overall workforce in 2015, up 1 percent from 2014, and 21 percent of technical hires for the year, up from 19 percent in 2014.

White employees made up 59 percent of its U.S. workforce and Asians accounted for 32 percent. Google had about 38,670 workers in the United States in 2015, according to its report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission based on August 2015 data. …

Google vice president of people operations Nancy Lee said the figures do not reflect where the company wants to be and said many small changes that do not show up in the statistics are having an impact. She pointed to conversations on diversity leading to a discussion on pay equity, which in turn resulted in a policy of paying employees according to position rather than by negotiated rates, which were often lower for women and minorities.