Facebook adds more Black leaders but falls back in female representation

Facebook's latest report revealed a 38% increase in Black people in leadership roles.

A Facebook "like" symbol across a street

Facebook's latest diversity report shows progress on race.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Facebook's efforts to increase diversity have moved at a glacial pace over the years. Like the rest of the tech industry, Facebook employees are overwhelmingly white and male. But Facebook's latest report actually showed some notable progress.

"Don't say 'actually,' Megan," Facebook Chief Diversity Officer Maxine Williams told me, laughing. "Yes, there's good progress!"

Facebook increased the amount of Black people in leadership from 3.4% in 2020 to 4.7% in 2021, which represents a 38.2% increase. The company also boosted its overall representation of Black people from 3.9% in 2020 to 4.4% this year. That represents the largest year-over-year increase since 2017, when Facebook reported a 3% Black population compared to 2% the year before.

There wasn't progress all around, however. Despite increasing the number of women in tech, non-tech and leadership roles, Facebook's overall representation of women slightly declined from 37% in 2020 to 36.7% in 2021.

"This was where I had to do a math course," Williams said. " ... How is this possible that we can increase in all of the categories and have a decrease overall?"

It came down to the fact that each department at Facebook has different needs, and some organizations within the company are bigger than others, she said.

"We've been able to take more market share," Williams said. "But given the number of technical roles [at Facebook], we're coming up upon some challenges to get more and more market share when the market [of women in computer science] isn't expanding as much."

Women represent about 20% of computer science graduates, according to 2018 data from the National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS Completions Survey. Facebook's engineering department is currently 24.8% female, which means the company has already surpassed parity.

Facebook currently has its eyes set on three goals: to double the number of women in its global workforce and double the number of Black and Latinx employees in the U.S.; to have at least 50% of its workforce be women, underrepresented minorities, people with disabilities and veterans by 2024; and to increase the number of people of color in director-level positions and higher by 30%. Last June, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg highlighted a goal for Facebook to increase the number of Black people in leadership positions by 30%.

Facebook has already surpassed that last goal, but Williams says the company is still aiming to increase the representation of Asian and Latinx people in leadership roles.

"I'm not resting on my laurels," she said. "Things could fluctuate, but it was a good sign that we got ahead of the goal in the one year."

Facebook held off on setting concrete diversity goals for years, despite companies such as Pinterest, Intel and others openly setting them. When reporters would ask Williams about goals, she said, "I would keep saying the goal is more, we need more."

"What I deeply believe is that people have a perception that if you set the goal then that's what will get you to it," she said. "When in fact I think a goal without a strategy is just a statement."

Instead, Williams said, Facebook spent years building a strategy before setting goals. Over the years, it became more clear what worked based on the progress Facebook made, she said.

"The value of the goal, really, is to just bring focus to the efforts, to kind of centralize everyone around an anchor of what you're prioritizing and where you want to go," she said. "But the strategies you're using are the same. You're not giving them new tools just by giving them new goals, but it may incentivize more consistent execution."

In March, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began looking into allegations of systemic racial bias in hiring and promotions at Facebook. Then, in April, a Facebook recruiter left the company and alleged Facebook's hiring practices don't create positive outcomes for people of color.

Williams, a Black woman who is above the age of 40, said there is a variety of things that could be challenging for her in the workplace, but that she has "never had a better experience" at work than she's having at Facebook.

"I know many, many people at Facebook who are like that," she said. But Williams also recognizes that not everyone has a great experience at the company.

"There's always going to be a certain amount of variation at scale," Williams said.

"What I see as part of my job is to close that gap," she said. "And to have a more above-the-line, consistent, supportive environment and career and give people the opportunity to do the best work in their lives."


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