Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook’s Struggle to Build a More Diverse Workforce

Deepa Seetharaman and Georgia Wells report for the Wall Street Journal on a points-based incentive program for hiring managers at Facebook:

At Facebook, like at other tech companies, recruiters bring in candidates, but it is up to hiring managers to make job offers. Therefore, attracting more candidates doesn’t necessarily result in a more diverse workforce.

[…]

Facebook recruiters often mined LinkedIn profiles for details that could serve as a proxy for race or gender: attending a historically black college, membership in an organization for Hispanic engineers, or a profile picture. Some compiled lists of the 100 most-common Hispanic names in the U.S. to plug into search strings, according to people familiar with the matter.

I’ve no doubt that recruiters will find some exceptional candidates this way, but this strikes me as a potentially short-sighted way to attempt to boost diversity figures for candidates, and doesn’t actually change the company’s culture to embrace a more diverse workforce. This is a patch covering up a much deeper issue of employees from entry-level engineers to higher management being conditioned to prefer — typically — white and male candidates.

Claire Cain Miller, reporting for the New York Times in February:

In the 1970s, symphony orchestras were still made up almost exclusively of white men — directors claimed they were the only ones qualified. Around that time, many began to use a new method of hiring musicians: blind auditions. Musicians auditioned behind screens so the judges couldn’t see what they looked like, and walked on carpeted floors so the judges couldn’t determine if they were women or men — the women often wore heels. The Boston Symphony Orchestra pioneered the practice in 1952, and more orchestras began using it after a high-profile racial discrimination case was brought by two black musicians against the New York Philharmonic in 1969. Researchers from Harvard and Princeton took notice and studied the results; they found that blind auditions increased the likelihood that a woman would be hired by between 25 and 46 percent. In fact, with blind auditions, women became slightly more likely to be hired than men. Confident that they would be treated fairly, female musicians started applying in greater numbers.

There’s no reason a similar blind hiring system would not be possible at tech companies, and I bet it would make for a substantially more diverse workforce. And, as a consequence, I’m certain that engineering and computer science programs across the United States would find themselves with a far greater representation of women and ethnic minorities.