Facebook Aims to Code Diversity Efforts Into Its Corporate DNA

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By Genevieve Douglas

Facebook knows its audience is diverse. So it’s developed short- and long-term strategies to hire, retain, and engage an employee population that represents its global audience.

As Silicon Valley continues to struggle to attract workers from different backgrounds, the tech giant is approaching the issue from a number of angles in an effort to make headway where others haven’t.

The efforts are having some effect. Women made up 35 percent of the company’s global workforce in 2017, up from 31 percent in 2014, the first year the company made its diversity numbers public. In the U.S., Facebook has increased the representation of Hispanic workers over that time from 4 percent to 5 percent and of black workers from 2 percent to 3 percent.

“Diversity is really core for us, especially given our business,” Janelle Gale, vice president of human resources at Facebook, told Bloomberg Law in an interview in San Francisco. “I personally spend a lot of my time focusing on this.” Diversity plays a large role in Facebook’s decision-making on business strategy, the products the company builds, and the customers the organization serves, Gale said.

Moreover, diversity is “instrumental” for how the business runs, she said. “We are a global company, we have global products, and therefore we have to be global in every aspect and diverse in every aspect.”

Today, however, “we’re not where we want to be by any means. We’re constantly working on this,” Gale said.

Multilayered Strategies

Facebook’s diversity strategy has a lot of moving pieces, Gale said. Long-term efforts include building the pipeline of diverse talent, such as for computer science, and also making sure all efforts flow through to hiring and retention strategies.

In the short-term, Facebook is working to increase representation in the workforce, using the “diverse slate approach,” Gale said. This approach is akin to the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” in which team leadership is required to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations jobs, she said. This strategy “works best for us,” Gale said, and forces leaders to ensure they are finding people from different backgrounds for open jobs. In turn, the approach ensures that Facebook eventually will have people from different backgrounds at the company, she said.

To find these potential new hires, Facebook sources talent “through the broadest net we can throw out there,” Gale said. For example, the company is developing relationships with historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and organizations like Black Girls Code.

For the long-term, Facebook is also focusing on how to improve the diversity talent pipeline, Gale said. Science, technology, engineering, and math fields aren’t just plagued by a lack of diverse students, but by the attrition of diverse students as well. Facebook developed “lean-in circles” that give women and minorities “cohorts” so they feel supported in their studies and can later pursue careers in the fields that Facebook needs, Gale said.

Confronting Bias

Internal diversity and inclusion work is largely focused on retaining employees, especially those from diverse backgrounds, Gale said. That work is led by initiatives to address unconscious bias in the workplace.

“Every employee comes to the table with biases based on our experience, or background, or whatever it might be,” Gale said. “We address it head-on” by requiring all employees to go through “managing bias” training. The workplace culture at Facebook puts the onus on employees who are in “majority positions” to do their part to identify micro-aggressions in the workplace or other issues that could hinder diversity, she said.

In practice, this means that, for example, when a woman is speaking during a meeting and a man talks over her or interrupts, the other men present at the meeting call out that behavior, Gale said.

“You don’t address bias issues by pushing them down under the surface,” Gale said. “We have to make sure that what is going on in society is addressed in a very inclusive way in the workplace.” Facebook employee resource, or affinity, groups are also a key part of bringing diversity issues and problems to the surface so they can be addressed, she said.

Facebook also leverages technology and data to measure the experience of employees in the workplace, particularly the unique experiences of different demographics of employees, Gale said. Facebook has found success using employee data analytics to target engagement issues, which often includes tackling inclusion efforts.

Using technology to tackle problems of diversity must be done in a transparent, inclusive way, however, Gale said. Facebook is clear with employees that HR only looks at the data in aggregate so that it’s confidential and doesn’t flag individual responses. The data analytics work because “we treat the data with respect, and that engenders trust with workers to provide information to HR,” Gale said.

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