The stories have been the same for many years now: we’ve seen countless pieces trying to get to the bottom of why Silicon Valley is so white and so male, a growing alarm at the gentrification of San Francisco and sober looks at pay inequality based on gender in America’s most forward-looking industry.
To show that they acknowledge and are working on the problem, tech companies have taken to releasing their diversity figures of late.
Today, social media titan Facebook released its numbers for 2017.
One guess as to whether there’s been a startling uptick in representation or not.
In the press release announcing their newest diversity figures, Facebook explicitly said that it is trying to do better, noting, “We aren’t where we’d like to be.”
The company also highlighted its hiring over the last year, touting wins for black and Latinx workers as well as women. The black and Latinx populations both increased by one percent this year, and 27 percent of new engineering hires were women.
But how did those increases affect the company’s overall numbers?
When it comes to gender, Facebook is 35 percent female; 19 percent of its technical team is made up of women.
The company only breaks down race data for the United States, where three percent of its workforce is black. And where only one percent of its technical team is black.
Let’s take a look at how Facebook stacks up to its peers.
At Uber, just 15 percent of the technical team is women, and nine percent of the overall workforce is black.
Google’s technical force is 20 percent female. Overall, Google is two percent black; its technical workforce is one percent black.
23 percent of Apple’s technical talent is female; the company as a whole is nine percent black, and its tech team is a respectable (for Silicon Valley) eight percent black.
So, overall, Facebook isn’t Silicon Valley’s worst company when it comes to diversity, but it very clearly has a long way to go.
How is it going to get there?
We wondered the same thing, so we called up Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global director of diversity, to find out.
Williams reiterated that Facebook has made great strides. “Since 2014 when we first started publishing numbers to now, we’ve been able to move blacks in non-tech from two to six percent … six percent of 20,000 [employees] is a much bigger volume than two percent of, at that time, nearly 5,000 people.”
After the math lesson, Williams went on address the one percent black engineer figure. “That is our most stubborn area to move.”
To increase that number, Williams said, “We are trying so many different things.”
One thing Facebook is trying is porting diversity initiatives that seemed to contribute to the non-technical side’s growth to the technical side.
Some of you bright young CS majors might have noticed that Facebook doesn’t recruit at your school. Williams said that the company is working on that. “We have increased the number of schools that we recruit at … we now recruit at about 300 schools around the world.”
And if you attend an HBCU, Facebook also has some good news for you. “We have deepened our relationships with … historically black colleges.”
Williams also fêted the success of an internship program specifically for underrepresented minorities called Facebook University.
Students start the program after freshman year; those that do well are invited back after sophomore year, and so on. Williams said that so far, more than 500 students have gone through the program, but wouldn’t go on record saying how many of those 500 received full time offers.
“We don’t say how many we give offers to.” At least a few have gotten offers, however. “We have people … who are full time now, who started in that program.”
According to Williams, a key problem is that black youth are not aware of Facebook’s myriad opportunities.
A 2016 Bloomberg piece profiled black engineers trying to get into Silicon Valley; a few decided to stop applying, either because they were discouraged or because they found the culture to be unattractive.
With this in mind, we asked Williams if black engineers were self-selecting out of Facebook’s potential talent pool.
“I don’t have any data that says people are choosing not to apply; I have data that says people [do] not [have tech] as much on their radar as it is in other populations.”
The data Williams was referring to come from a Facebook-commissioned McKinsey study that found 77 percent of black youth’s parents/guardians/mentor figures did not know how to guide their wards into tech.
Perhaps because of this, Facebook isn’t putting all of its diversity eggs into the talent development basket.
Williams said that the company recognizes there are a lot of black engineers that work for other companies that could be future Facebook employees.
To begin getting on good paper with them, the company is trying to do better with networking with black engineers. “We started something called Blacks in Tech in the Bay Area where we literally reached out to all the blacks in tech working in the Bay Area.”
Beyond this initiative, there is also an engineering bootcamp for underrepresented minority engineers that is similar to Facebook University. These engineers are brought to “do real work,” and at the end of the program — if they do well — they are offered full time employment.
Making the company more diverse is a task far harder than say, convincing people to make their names, appearances and biographical information available to anyone who cares to look.
But the difficulty of the endeavor doesn’t daunt Williams or her colleagues. “We’ve seen the proof of the great things that come from having a more diverse population in tech.”
In recruiting more black talent and fixing its pipeline problems, Williams said, “The last thing we believe is people can’t, what we believe is they can. We just need to get them from that ‘I can’t’ to ‘I will.’”