When most of us think of the people behind Facebook, we believe of a bunch of white guys. And, we’re right. The tech giant, along with most other Silicon Valley firms is largely homogenous. But, Facebook, realizing they had a lack-of-diversity problem, and the negative impact that would have on the company as a whole (how helpful is it to have only one perspective?) decided to fix it. Enter Maxine Williams, who, as Global Director of Diversity is leading the charge to increase the number of women, African Americans, and Latinx on staff through recruiting initiatives and programs to make existing staff aware of inherent biases.
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We chatted with Williams on why this was so important to FB, and her.
Q: At FB, it’s your actual J-O-B to hire more “minorities,” have you been successful?
A: We’ve increased the number of women globally in our company—in both technical and non-technical roles. Also, I’m happy to report that we raised both Hispanic and African American hires as well! I'm speculating that there's been about a 5,000 employee increase over the last year.
Q: You have a two-part approach to diversity, right?
A: Yes, we have a “find” category—how we search for and how we hire people, and the “grow and keep” category—once they get here we ask ‘How is our culture supporting them? How is their experience? How are they able to leverage their skills?’ For recruiting, it’s a complex web—just like society. So, diversity approach is something that needs to be emphasized in recruiting.
From the culture side, we also started addressing whatever bias might exist in our system. It's hard to track. All we know, is, in short, everyone is biased! To kind of get ahead of it, we started with a course where we taught people about what kind of biases exist against underrepresented people, how that impacts them in the workplace and what to do to counteract that. For instance, a black or Latino person with a clean record is only as likely to get a job as a white person with a criminal record. That’s an example of the society we're operating in, so what does that mean for people in the workplace? By sharing that kind of stuff, it makes it concrete for people. Once you make it concrete, then you can address it head-on.
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Q: What has been the toughest part of recruiting more diverse talent?
A: Market availability in the tech space is more accentuated as a challenge. It’s a space where we, therefore, build long-term projects, which are very focused getting underrepresented people exposure to what tech is. We did a lot of research and went to communities and interviewed people. We didn’t just want to get information from computer science majors, but also from parents and guardians because we saw that that was a critical factor. If you ask any computer scientist how they got there, they always say it was a parent or guardian who led them here. According to research done by McKinsey & Co., in underrepresented communities, 77% of parents and guardians said they don’t know how to lead their children to computer science. That number is 83% for parents and guardians who themselves didn't have an undergraduate degree in any subject. So, we can see that these populations have disadvantages and we wanted to do reduce the disadvantages and level the playing fields. We created something called "TechPrep," which is an online resource for learners and parents and guardians that give exposure as well as guidance. You type in your zip code, and it gives you places near you where you can learn how to code, both in English and Spanish. We have even done road shows where we go to communities with a high percentage of Latinos and Blacks. By the way, you don’t have to go to school to work here; you don’t have to have a degree to work here. People who teach themselves how to do things work here. The school thing is just a practical way of finding large volumes of individuals who have taught themselves for at least four years. That’s all it is—a proxy for finding people. But if it's clear that you’ve been working at this and you gained skills, then, of course, we're interested in you!
Q: How does a person of color, a woman, get their foot in the door on Facebook?
A: Apply! Every single job we have is posted on our career site, and if you go to that link, you can see them all. All you have to do is apply. My biggest concern is that there are more majority people than underrepresented people applying for jobs. I think that’s in part of the exposure issues. I want people in these communities to understand that we have jobs here for them. We have jobs in both technical and not- technical fields. If people apply, we can consider you and give you a job!