SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook is inching toward increasing the diversity of its workforce but it still has a big problem: it’s hiring very few black and Hispanic women.
The social media giant’s latest diversity report released Thursday shows strides in boosting the ranks of some groups who’ve been underrepresented at Facebook from the beginning, but a closer look at the raw numbers reveals that these women of color are being largely left out of any progress.
You can almost count on one hand the number of black women — six — who work as senior managers or executives at Facebook in the U.S., accounting for less than 1 percent of those 769 jobs. The next layer of managers at Facebook isn’t more diverse: 34 out of a total of 2,816, or 1.2%.
The number of Hispanic women who are senior managers or executives can be counted on two hands for about 1.3 percent of those jobs, according to the most recent documents Facebook filed with the federal government. Hispanic women hold 46 of the next layer of management positions at Facebook, or 1.6 percent.
Facebook, whose products are used by more than two billion people around the world, isn’t the only major tech company having trouble reversing decades of hiring patterns and making their corporate cultures more welcoming to women of color.
Last month Google said it would begin to focus diversity efforts on African-American and Hispanic women after similar patterns emerged. Out of the nearly 56,000 people Google employed in the U.S. in 2017, 544 were black women. Hispanic women and Latinas numbered 945 in 2017.
Overall Facebook employs 278 black women, 1.4% of the U.S. workforce of just under 20,000. That’s nearly triple the number of black women Facebook employed in 2016, but only a slight increase percentage wise. Hispanic women number 463, more than doubling since 2016, but making up about 2.3 percent of the workforce at Facebook, up from 1.8%.
“We are definitely concerned,” Maxine Williams, Facebook’s chief diversity officer, told USA TODAY in an interview.
The sharpest deficits in Silicon Valley are African-American and Hispanic women, who make up 1 percent or fewer of workers, while across other industries they are represented at much higher rates consistent with their proportion of the overall U.S. population.
Dr. Allison Scott, chief of research at the Kapor Center, says the diversity conversation in Silicon Valley mostly focuses on race and ethnicity or gender, not both. And efforts made by tech companies to close the gender gap have boosted the fortunes of white women, while hobbling progress for women of color.
White women who are far better represented at the executive level than men and women of color, research from the nonprofit Ascend Foundation research shows. Representation of white women in leadership roles improved by 17% between 2007 and 2015. For all other minority groups, including African American, Hispanic and Asian men and women, the percentage declined.
At Facebook, the percentage of women in its global workforce increased year over year to 36% from 35%, according to the company. Women in technical roles rose to 22% from 19% and women in senior leadership to 30% from 28%.
“Women of color, who simultaneously experience two marginalized identities within the tech ecosystem, face unique barriers and obstacles that are not well understood or acknowledged,” Scott said. “Without a specific focus on strategies to recruit, hire, and retain women of color, progress will remain stalled.”
Increasing the ranks of women of color is a critical challenge for the tech industry, whose customers are half women, about 13% black, and nearly 18% Hispanic, according to 2016 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Research is piling up that companies with a diverse workforce fetch a higher market value and greater returns. And technology companies are looking to recruit workers from a range of backgrounds to brainstorm and build products for a global marketplace.
At the same time, women and men of color are being excluded from technical and non-technical positions in one of the nation’s wealthiest, fastest-growing and highest-paying sectors.
At Facebook, the number of African-American employees overall increased to 4% from 3%, while Hispanic employees remained the same at 5%. Facebook says it also saw an increase in African-American and Hispanic employees in business and sales roles.
But Facebook continued to struggle in the areas where the company’s diversity has always been in shortest supply: in technical and leadership roles. The tiny percentage of African-American and Hispanic staffers in those positions remained largely unchanged, with the exception of Hispanics in leadership roles, which fell a percentage point year over year.
The problem, says Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, a strategy firm that consults with technology companies on diversity and inclusion, is that Facebook, like many tech companies, puts a lot of emphasis on programs aimed at increasing the pipeline of talent.
“While these programs have value, they often get more attention and investment than programs aimed at making internal changes. Changes to how companies evaluate talent. How they invest in, train, and coach the people they have. How they evaluate performance and make promotion decisions,” Emerson said. “Those types of internal changes are often harder. They require a lot of critical self-reflection.”