Why ‘Black Lives Matter’ at White Male Facebook

Facebook’s deeper trouble is diversity, and it’s a problem the entire tech industry shares

Facebook’s massive social network connects more than a billion people of every ethnicity daily, but its largely white workforce is grappling with how to be just as inclusive.

The social media giant’s diversity dilemma resurfaced Thursday, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg scolded employees to stop defacing “Black Lives Matter” messages at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

“This has been a deeply hurtful and tiresome experience for the black community, and really the entire Facebook community,” he wrote in an internal Facebook message obtained by Gizmodo.

But the black community doesn’t have much representation inside Facebook, underscoring how Silicon Valley’s wider diversity problem can manifest in ugly ways. As the technology industry grows in global influence, the persistence of its disproportionately white, male workforce and leadership raises questions about the presence of unconscious biases — and how far they can spread.

Facebook is one of the biggest technology employers in the world with a 10,000-plus workforce, but only 2 percent of employees are black, according to the company’s latest diversity report released in June 2015. In tech positions, black people make up just 1 percent. More than half of Facebook’s workers are white, and 91 percent are either white or Asian.

The company is disproportionately male. The staff is 68 percent male. In tech and leadership roles, the disparity widens. Men make up 84 percent of tech jobs and 77 percent of its senior leadership.

Facebook is not alone. At Google, black workers make up 2 percent of its ranks, while Latino workers represent 3 percent. Twitter’s U.S. workforce is 2 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic. At both companies, women make up 30 percent.

That lack of diversity has plagued Silicon Valley even as it has dedicated itself to inclusive programs and benchmarks.

Zuckerberg’s reprimand about “Black Lives Matter” not only highlighted Silicon Valley’s diversity problem but also underscored its persistent efforts to turn the tide.

Facebook reworked — and publicly shared online — a hiring training course designed to address unconscious bias. The company also started a program in some divisions that requires a position’s applicant pool to include at least one minority candidate.

To counter the recurring instances of people crossing out “Black Lives Matter” on a wall at its headquarters and writing “All Lives Matter,” which Zuckerberg called “malicious,” the founder on Thursday announced plans to hold a town hall meeting next week for people to “educate themselves on what the Black Lives Matter movement is about.”

But progress is creeping. The percentage of tech-related employees who are white fell to 51 percent in 2015 from 53 percent a year earlier.

Facebook is the first to acknowledge it has a long way to go.

“It’s clear to all of us that we still aren’t where we want to be,” Maxine Williams, head of the company’s diversity efforts, said in June as she disclosed the stats. “There’s more work to do.”