As part of his 50-state tour across the country, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stopped by the historically Black North Carolina A&T State University on Monday, March 13, to talk with students about the world of tech, politics, media and the hot-button issue of diversity.
Silicon Valley, and the tech industry as a whole, have taken heat in the past few years for its failure to hire a more diverse workforce, so it’s no surprise that some talk of diversity would be brought up during the tech billionaire’s address. Zuckerberg’s own company, for instance, is severely lacking in the diversity department, with just 145 of his 8,446 TOTAL employees being African-American, according to a report released by the tech giant last year.
Tech news site Gizmodo reported that, during the Q&A session, a Ph.D student challenged Silicon Valley’s overwhelmingly white demographics and asked Zuckerberg, “What do you intend to do about [the lack of diversity] and what advice would you give to us as minorities to strategically navigate the entrepreneurial world so that we can be included?”
The tech CEO seemed to fumble with the question at first but ultimately gave an answer that addressed why diversity is so important and how he planned to boost it at his own $350-billion company.
“Frankly, I think that that’s our problem to figure out,” Zuckerberg told th students.
He went on to discuss the value of diversity in tech giants like his and the methods he uses to ensure his company hires people of all races and backgrounds. For one, Zuckerberg said he’s built specific teams that focus on diversity and is currently pushing to have all his hiring managers undergo rigorous unconscious-bias training. It’s safe to say, however, that the tech billionaire likely didn’t need to stress the importance of diversity to a room of college-educated Black students.
“A lot of people who think that they care about diversity actually still have a lot of these biases that hold them back,” he said.
Zuckerberg’s diversity teams and unconscious bias tests, however, don’t negate the fact that Facebook is still only 1.7 percent Black. In fact, it’s the low man on the totem pole when in comes to Blackness, falling behind other notable tech giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. But, many of these companies still struggle with diversity, too. For instance, Google’s very first diversity report, released last year, revealed that just 30 percent of its staff is female and a mere 2 percent of its employees are Black.
A Gizmodo article published last year, however, pointed out that not only can these so-called diversity reports be slow in tracking progress, they also can be misleading. So, just when you think your favorite tech company has made inroads on increasing diversity, you discover it really hasn’t.
“Diversity reports are an excellent first step, but they can conceal important details, and companies are making reports public later and later,” the article read. “The EEO-1 filings —raw numbers categorized by race, gender and employee classification — are crucial for scrutinizing general demographic data.
“Instead of releasing the raw numbers that align with how employees are organized internally, most diversity splash pages offer only percentages,” it continued. “With raw numerical data, we’d have a much clearer picture of the myriad diversity issues beyond general demographics.”
Zuckerberg concluded his talk Monday by assuring the HBCU students that their engineering skills are very much needed, but progress in the realm diversity could take a little time.
“This is something that’s very ingrained in our society and it’s gonna take a while to fully back this out,” he said.