Women In Comms

What Facebook's Recruiting Woes Tell Us

Of all the companies in the Valley, Facebook seems to be the most progressive when it comes to diversity and supporting women. It's transparent about its numbers; it's made a public commitment to improving its representation of females; and its COO is Sheryl Sandberg, founder of LeanIn.org, after all.

Yet, Facebook is struggling to recruit diverse candidates in its engineering base, a Bloomberg report this week revealed. If they can't move the needle on diversity, can any tech company?

Well, the answer is likely "yes" if they really want to and are willing to take a holistic approach to it. Here's what went wrong at the social networking giant:

Facebook recruiters, talking under the promise of anonymity, told Bloomberg that their efforts have been stymied "by a multi-layered hiring process that gives a small committee of high-ranking engineers veto power over promising candidates." So, while recruiters are incentivized to bring in women, black and Latino workers by a point system that gives them two points per diverse candidate, rather than the standard one, it ends up not mattering once it reaches this committee. (See Tech CEOs: Gender Diversity Not Top Priority.)

This committee is made up of -- you guessed it -- almost all white or Asian men, who the recruiters suggested were risk adverse and evaluated the candidates by traditional metrics like where they went to school, whether they had experience at a top tech firm and if they were referred by an existing Facebook employee. These are, of course, valid metrics but are also factors that are clear from any resume and should not have been deciding factors after hours of interviews. (See Recruiter Sees 7% Rise in Female Placements.)

Facebook told Bloomberg that most of its hires are not from referrals, that diversity is a priority and that it puts its interviewers and hiring managers through a "managing bias" course. Its numbers, however, suggest these measures haven't been all that effective. As of the last time it reported, July 2016, Facebook's senior leadership was 27% female, and it said that new senior leadership hires were 29% female. But, from 2015 to 2016, Facebook's females in tech roles only grew from 16% to 17%. Progress has clearly been slow going. (See Ellen Pao Returns to VC to Tackle Tech Diversity.)

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I think what Facebook's experience shows us is how multi-faceted of a problem increasing diversity at a company is and how much it takes complete buy in at all levels. Looking at just the gender part of this equation, the pipeline is certainly a problem -- there are fewer female candidates in tech roles to pull from. That said, it's far from the only issue. (See A Vast Valley: Tech's Inexcusable Gender Gap and Tales From the Valley: Bias, Sexism & Worse.)

Many recruiters could do a better job at seeking out diverse candidates and giving them a fair shot at a position, but anyone who plays a role in hiring these individuals has to approach them with an open mind as well -- a truly open mind in which "cultural fit" is not used against diverse candidates when the culture to date is shaped by a homogenous workforce. Having some women on the hiring committee would go a long way as well, I imagine.

I don't believe that Facebook's commitment to diversity is inauthentic, but it is incomplete. It's a big challenge, and it's made harder when you are working against a system that has been in place for years. A commitment to diversity requires a wholesale change in how business is done. It requires a company culture shift so that more people can fit into that culture. (See Championing Change: It's a Cultural Thing.)

It can't just be a feel-good donation to a coding for kids group, a few press releases and parading out female execs. Putting the onus solely on the recruiters also isn't fair, and it's clearly not effective either.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

kq4ym 1/24/2017 | 7:03:54 PM
Re: Does Facebook want to change? It would appear that getting upper management to have an "open mind" on diversity is easier said than done. With the stat that "Facebook's senior leadership was 27% female," being a sign of just what's been going on for a long time, I would not hold my breath for any sudden changes in the situation.
Sarah Thomas 1/13/2017 | 11:24:21 AM
Re: Does Facebook want to change? Agreed, Kelsey. Adding women and minorities to that panel would go a long way in helping diversify new candidates, I imagine. Of course, if there are none at the top, plus none being let in, that won't happen anytime soon either...Vicious cycle!
Kelsey Ziser 1/12/2017 | 5:19:16 PM
Re: Does Facebook want to change? @Sarah Great point on how "multi-faceted of a problem increasing diversity at a company is." It does seem a little bleak when even Facebook is struggling to get it right. Lack of incentives to change coupled with a "why rock the boat" mindset are probably a big part of the problem -- if the hiring committee thinks what they've always done is working, they're probably not inclined to change. Ironic how companies like FB can chase after innovation when it comes to technology, but are happy to continue business as usual when it comes to their workforce.
Sarah Thomas 1/12/2017 | 2:05:51 PM
Does Facebook want to change? I'd be interested to hear Facebook address what the recruiters are saying head on -- did they realize how much this committee was hurting their diversity efforts? I imagine so, which makes me wonder if the really care to change their ways. As Pao said in the video clip yesterday, what they've been doing for all these years has more or less worked for them, so they might not be all that incentivized to change. Making the recruiters responsible shows they are doing something about it, but it's clearly not enough if they aren't willing to change what they are doing internally. 
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