Monday, June 29, 2015

On Diversity Among Facebook Employees

Those of you who have read my opinions before might remember that I don't like the term "diversity" in hiring.  For example, it allows a big blond wheat cake to be peppered with a few specks of cardamom and a few peppers, and then we have a cake full of diversity!  At the other extreme the term tends to make a total mess of what happens when we ignore the actual population percentages of various groups.

To give you an example of the latter problem, suppose that some country has 90% of purple people and 10% of green people, and that initially 100% of all the good jobs are held by purple people and 0% are held by green people, even though green and purple people are, on average, equally good at those jobs and want them as much.

Then we get a diversity effort, and the jobs start shifting, so that at one point 95% are held by purple people and 5% by green people.  That's progress right?  But is it still progress if at a later point 80% of the jobs are held by purple people and 20% by green people?  Should more jobs shift towards the green people?

I don't think so.  Assuming that purple and green people are equally interested in the jobs and equally good at them, then the percentages should reflect the population percentages, that is 90% for the purple folks and 10% for the green folks.

I thought about this when reading the results on Facebook diversity efforts:

In its diversity report released on Thursday the social network company revealed that more than half of its US staff are white, with the proportion dropping slightly from 57% to 55%. The proportion of Asian employees increased by 2% to 36%, but the shares of hispanic and black people or those of “two or more races” remained flat at 4%, 2% and 3% respectively.
Does that quote demonstrate increased diversity, reduced diversity or things staying the same?

I'm not sure how diversity experts would judge these results.  But based on population percentages alone Asians are vastly overrepresented (with a population percentage in 2013 of 5.3%), and  Hispanic and black workers are vastly underrepresented among Facebook employees (compared to their population percentages of 17.1 and 13.2 respectively).  Individuals of two or more races are represented roughly in proportion to their population percentages.

It's harder to determine whether non-Hispanic whites are represented in proportion to their numbers in the population (62% in 2013), because ideally we'd need the population percentage for working-age non-Hispanic whites, as the elderly are likely to be a largish proportion of that group.

On the other hand, women are clearly underrepresented when compared to their population percentage (50.8%).  From the Guardian article:

Facebook also made little progress increasing the proportion of female employees, 68% of its global employees are male – a decrease of 1%. Among its employees working on its core technology 84% are male, down from 85% last year.
In a more serious attempt to analyze these facts we'd need to look at the Facebook leadership which is probably as white and as male as is the Google leadership, and we'd also need to look at the pipeline:  Those individuals who have the education and skills required to work at Facebook.

It's possible that Facebook's hiring reflects the ethnic, racial and gender makeup  of those in the pipeline.  It's possible, I say, but probably not true, because:

The pipeline, however, is not in fact dry. A USA Today analysis found that black and Hispanic students graduate computer-science and engineering programs at top universities at double the rate at which they get hired by leading tech companies. Male graduates of science and engineering programs end up employed in a STEM occupation at twice the rate of female graduates. Some tech companies that are dedicated to being diverse have achieved the goal: ThoughtWorks just had a hiring class that was more than half female. Women and people of color who want to work in technology are out there. They can be hired. It might not be easy, but clearly it can be done.

Added later:  The point I'm trying to make here is about fairness, not about diversity which is a fuzzy concept.  The former suggests that the hiring efforts should be aimed especially at blacks and Latinos when it comes to race and ethnicity and at women when it comes to gender.