Facebook data shows diversity gap goes beyond technology jobs

Kapor Center

SAN FRANCISCO, June 26 ― Facebook Inc’s disclosure of the ethnic makeup of its workforce shows that the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley goes beyond software and engineering jobs.

Just 13 per cent of non-technical employees ― people in areas such as sales, marketing, finance and customer support ― are Hispanic, black and other minorities, the company said in a blog post yesterday. The vast majority ― 87 per cent ― are white or Asian.

The numbers from the world’s largest social-networking service show how the lack of representation by minorities in Silicon Valley goes beyond roles that require a computer science or engineering degree. While Yahoo! Inc, Google Inc and LinkedIn Corp have made similar disclosures in the past month, they haven’t provided the breakdown between technology and non-technical jobs.

“This is not just a problem among tech jobs,” said Freada Kapor Klein, a diversity consultant who works with companies including Google. “The diversity problem is slightly better for non-technical jobs, but not materially better,”

Among Facebook’s technical employees, the lack of diversity is starker, with 94 per cent being white or Asian, and the rest ethnic minorities. Facebook, whose chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has been vocal about the need for women to be represented in leadership roles, said women make up 15 per cent of technical employees and 23 per cent of senior managers. The figures highlight a lack of minorities and women at Facebook and other technology companies, an issue that Sandberg helped bring into the spotlight with her Lean In campaign.

While 31 per cent of Facebook’s total workforce is female, women make up 47 per cent of non-technical jobs. The Menlo Park, California-based company had about 6,800 employees as of March.

Diversity data

“Since our strategic diversity team launched last year, we’re already seeing improved new hire figures and lower attrition rates for underrepresented groups,” Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global head of diversity, said in the post. “As these numbers show, we have more work to do ― a lot more.”

Facebook’s data don’t differ much from other Silicon Valley Web companies. Google is 30 per cent female, while Yahoo is 37 per cent and LinkedIn is at 39 per cent. The data suggest that other technology companies also have a low percentage of non- white or non-Asian workers in non-technical jobs, according to Kapor Klein.

Technology companies have traditionally pointed to the lack of qualified female and non-Asian minority technologists to explain their diversity gap, but the Facebook data suggests that the problem goes far beyond that, Kapor Klein said.

“Other industries have done a much better job of recruiting sales and accounting and general management candidates than tech,” Kapor Klein said. “It’s not that there isn’t an adequate supply.”

Broader efforts

Facebook said it’s teaming up with several organisations, including the National Centre for Women & Information Technology and the National Society of Black Engineers to improve diversity.

Google last week introduced Made With Code, an organisation to inspire girls to write software by showing them role models and teaching them introductory coding. The group said it’s committing US$50 million (RM160 million) to support programmes that get more women into computer science.

Along with its dislosure, Facebook announced seven initiatives to help close its diversity gap. Four of them related specifically to increasing the number of female or minority technologists.

Silicon Valley is also less diverse compared with the rest of the country, with Hispanics and blacks making up 15 per cent and 11 per cent of the US labour force in 2012, according to the most recent data available from the US Department of Labour.

“The irony is that Silicon Valley companies claim to be more enlightened than the rest of corporate America, but we’re learning that they are actually doing worse,” Kapor Klein said. ― Bloomberg