Future Tense

Lawmakers Press Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s Diversity Problem

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus pressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to account for his company’s poor record of workforce diversity at Wednesday’s hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield scolded Zuckerberg for the Cambridge Analytica scandal before changing the subject. “I want to go in a different direction today, sir,” he said. “You and your team certainly know how I feel about racial diversity in corporate America.”

Rep. Yvette Clark (D-New York) also questioned Zuckerberg about how Facebook responded to propaganda, specifically 3,000 Russian ads bought on Facebook, that characterized African American groups like Black Lives Matter as a rising threat. “I’m concerned that there are not eyes that are culturally competent looking at these things and being able to see how this would impact civil society,” she said. “If everyone within the organization is monolithic, then you can miss these things very easily.”

Zuckerberg had escaped that line of questioning in Tuesday’s Senate judiciary and commerce hearing, which focused on protecting users’ privacy and exploring Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But it was a question he had a ready answer for. An Associated Press photo taken at Tuesday’s meeting showed an open binder full of notes and talking points about a wide variety of subjects, including lack of diversity. As summarized by Slate’s April Glaser:

The first canned answer placed Facebook’s particular workforce diversity problem within the context of a broader problem in the industry: “Silicon Valley has a problem, and Facebook is part of that problem.” The second talking point included Facebook’s diversity numbers.

African Americans fill fewer than 3 percent of jobs in Silicon Valley. Facebook’s diversity numbers, though low, have improved slightly since the company launched its diversity initiatives in 2017, and they remain higher than those of other top employers like Google, where African American employment is 2 percent. The number of African American workers at Facebook grew from 2 percent to 3 percent last year, and the number of Hispanic workers also grew one percentage point to 5 percent. The number of African Americans and Hispanics in leadership positions, however, remained low and unchanged.

“While this is a small increase, it’s better than none, but this does not nearly meet the definition of building a racially diverse community,” Butterfield said. “CEO leadership on issues of diversity is the only way that the technology industry will change.”

The Democrat from North Carolina went on to say that Facebook must get better at hiring minorities at the entry level and promoting them to leadership and board positions. The top-five members of Facebook’s management team are all white, but the company did make progress in January when it named former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault to its board as the first African American member.

Zuckerberg said Facebook was “focused on” diversity, but he stopped short of agreeing to Butterfield’s call for a meeting of CEOs to develop a strategy to increase racial diversity in the tech industry.

“I think that that’s a good idea, and we should follow up on it,” he said. “I know this is something that the whole industry is behind on, and Facebook is certainly a big part of that issue. We care about this not just from the justice angle, but because we know that having diverse viewpoints is what will help us serve our community better, which is ultimately what we’re here to do.”