Facebook diversity chief 'frustrated' over slow progress

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Facebook Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams. lewource: US Embassy London/Flickr

Ask Facebook Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams about the state of employee diversity at Facebook (and beyond), and she’s refreshingly honest.

“Look, I’m frustrated too,” she told Yahoo Finance during an interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing this week. “I want there to be more.”

According to a diversity data report released earlier this year by the social network, women now represent 35% of Facebook’s total workforce, up from 33% the year before. Representation for both Hispanic and African American employees increased just 1% year-over-year.

Still, those numbers are significantly better than the rest of the tech industry, where African American and Hispanic representation is actually declining, according to new research published earlier this week by the non-profit Ascend Foundation.

Williams and Facebook are playing the long game. And with progress being slow, companies like Facebook will continue to face public scrutiny for their relative lack of tech diversity.

To her credit, Williams has wasted no time introducing a slew of diversity-oriented initiatives aimed at improving Facebook’s hiring and retention practices since she joined the network in September 2013. In 2015, Facebook rolled out the Diverse Slate Approach for hiring. The strategy, which is similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, requires Facebook hiring managers to at least consider underrepresented people for positions.

Earlier this year, the social network rolled out an initiative sponsored by Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer called Be The Ally, which trains Facebook employees how to be better advocates for one another.

“The data shows that if you’re a majority person, and you advocate on behalf of a minority person, you are given more credit,” Williams explained. “In fact, your performance reviews are higher because you are seen subconsciously as being more altruistic. ‘Oh, that’s a team player.’”

In the larger tech sphere, Silicon Valley has seen something of a shake-up this year. A number of women in tech — including employees at Uber — have stepped forward on-the-record to discuss experiences around sexual harassment. This has spurred a movement where women, at least for now, feel more empowered to share their experiences, negative as they may be.

“You talk to Gloria Steinem, she may say like, ‘Oh no, honey, you all think you’re doing stuff? We did this in the 60s,'” Williams said. “So, I don’t know that this time is so special. I don’t know if we’ll ever be through the time.”

Williams pointed to a recent McKinsey survey that concluded it would take 100 years for gender parity to be 50%. She continued: “Is there stuff we could do to accelerate that? I think we just have to take a long view. … I think the difference is that when you are working in the complexity of it, you see where the challenges are, right? And then you keep working on them. But yeah, good for them to want more of us. I do too.”

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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