Why Facebook and Every Other Tech Company Needs Several Seats on the Diversity Train

Why Facebook and Every Other Tech Company Needs Several Seats on the Diversity Train

I can’t.

As a Black female in computer science, I’m so mentally and emotionally spent on this topic that I don’t even know where to begin.

Let’s start with this. A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that Facebook blames their lack of diversity on the lack of available talent. So basically, it’s your fault, Hispanics and Blacks, because, well, there aren’t enough of you out there so…there.

Yeaaaaaaahhhhh….no. Just…no.

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I don’t know what pisses me off more with this article, the fact that this is still the excuse, in 2016, or the fact that they neglect all of the available talent that is currently IN THE SAME DAMN PIPELINE THEY ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT AS I TYPE!!

Seriously, what you are NOT about to do on my watch is continue to spin this same story about the pipeline problem and how “we can’t find the talent.” The truth is, you don’t WANT the talent that is out there (or coming). If you REALLY did, then these numbers, in the last couple of years alone, would’ve increased to a point that you would be bragging about. You know, kinda like the point you wanted to make about women in leadership rising 4% last year??

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So what’s the REAL problem here? You know, the ACTUAL reason why there aren’t more Black and Hispanic computer scientists at these major tech companies? I’m glad you asked, cause I’m gonna tell you anyway. Let’s be honest. You all don’t really give a damn about diversity or inclusion. If you did, there would be an EXTREMELY intentional effort right now and well, this WSJ article kinda proves that isn’t the case. But here are the REAL reasons for the lack of diversity in tech companies:

1. Company cultures that encourage exclusivity.
What does it benefit an established company culture that seemingly works as-is to now open up the doors to outsiders? I mean, WE all see what the benefits are on the outside looking in but, clearly, no one on the inside really understands, appreciates, or sees any added advantage of doing so.

Reference: True story. I mentioned in a prior post two years ago that I was heavily courted by an unnamed company (and their new manager) to work in their K-12 CS education division. Long story short, said manager made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she was sold, I had the job, and we just needed to go through the “formalities” of the formal interview process with the rest of the team (fast-tracked of course to happen over the next few days). But the day before my expected flight to headquarters, HR abruptly emails me (after pressing me two days before to schedule a last-minute flight to Silicon Valley to set up interviews) that the position was filled and, in the words of Russell Simmons, “thanks for comin’ out, God bless, goodnight.”

Mind you, I didn’t receive the courtesy of an explanation as to what happened from anyone, especially since, 2 days before my itinerary was set. I contacted not only my HR point of contact, but also the same hiring manager who before was singing my praises and thanking me for putting her on to a variety of books and other sources of information dealing with cultural relevance in the K-12 CS education space. I got no response. It was only through someone I knew personally, did I find out what really happened.

See, the position WASN’T filled. I’d previously been pressed to interview for another position 2 years prior to this that I didn’t want or wanted to interview for (my father was dying at the time and well, THAT was my priority). However, another division manager pressed this same friend to press me to interview anyway. Well, apparently, someone I interviewed with for that PRIOR position noted that they didn’t think I was “Googley” enough.

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Did I mention the company was Google? Did I mention that this was supposed to be in a division, K-12 Education, that was (supposed to be) focused on broadening participation in CS? No?? Well…it was.

First off, what the H-E-double hockey sticks is “Googley enough?”

Translation #1: Not Black.
Translation #2: White or Asian.
Translation #3: One of “us.”

I think we can all deduce that it was a combination of all three of these.

I then learned that same new manager (you know, the one who told me I all but had the job except for the “formalities”) could’ve overridden this comment and made her own executive decision to hire me anyway but…since she was a newly-hired manager, she didn’t want to “ruffle the waters.” Not only did she never even provide the courtesy of a reply or explanation saying “sorry, not sorry” even, but HR didn’t have the decency to handle this properly either. Were it not for my friend, I would’ve been left in the dark without the professional courtesy of any response, at minimum.

That’s just my personal story though. I could also share the story about a Howard University undergrad who (several years before my interview) interned there and blew all other summer interns out the water (completing two summer projects when everyone else barely completed one). He wasn’t offered a full-time job because, we later learned, he wasn’t considered “Googley enough,” verbatim. One guess what his race was.

So, until you all decide that you want to stand on the side of right, and not your own self-serving interests, then your actual company culture is still the same and STILL a major part of the problem.

2. Intentionally overlooking the talent pool.
This is the part that really enrages me as well. I spent 4 years as a CS undergraduate at Johnson C. Smith University (HBCU). I spent 9 years at Howard University as faculty in the CS department (another HBCU). Those are only 2 of approximately 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (for those of you who never cared to learn what HBCU stands for…yet again, further proof of the problem).

How many of you are intentionally recruiting at career fairs at HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), or Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs)?? Research has shown for decades now that HBCUs alone are the single largest producers of Black graduates who go on to complete doctorates in STEM. You may not think that matters but, given the number of high-ranking leadership I see with Ph.D.’s in your companies then yeah, those facts, like most, matter.

According to the 2015 Taulbee Survey, approximately 800 of the 13,000 B.S. degrees awarded in CS were to Black and Hispanic students. Here are a couple of other stats:

  • Class of 2014-1,000 of 12,000 graduates
  • Class of 2013-800 of 11,000 graduates

That doesn’t include computer engineering and information majors, which takes each year’s total to approximately 10% of graduates.

Sooo, you mean to tell me you can’t find anyone?

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You want more talent, you go to a direct source. What’s so hard about that? Looking for more seasoned, experienced talent? We’re around, and usually active and affiliated with our alma maters in some way. All you have to do is ask.

Which leads me to.

3. Not putting your money where your mouth is.
So you’re serious about getting more students of color into your doors. Where are the investments in those same schools that are producing them? The top feeder schools to Google, for example, include Stanford, UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and UCLA. Notice anything here??

Where are the large investments in and relationships with the HBCU, HSI, and TCU CS departments to develop programs dedicated to bringing more opportunities to these same potential graduates you can’t seem to find? So, you donated $15 million to Code.org to help with their initiatives. But you could very easily make $1M direct investments in 15 HBCU CS departments and make an immediate impact in the department, students, and opportunities. But, when it’s time to write checks to these schools, you start sounding like Kevin Hart:

“The way my bank account is set up….”


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Ya’ll don’t hear me though.

4. Thinking you know better than Black and Hispanics about what’s best for them.
I said this before in a prior post about diversity in CS also. How is it that the people who look the LEAST like those students you’re trying to attract and retain are the ones who seem to have ALL the answers about how to NOW solve this problem? The same people who, essentially, created the problem now have the exact solution to it? Really?

I worked recently as a lead writer on the development of the new K12 CS Framework coming soon. I remember in one session, I literally had the following exchange with a white, male counterpart:

Me: “Diversity and inclusion are important and must be a part of this framework. Students must be able to see themselves and their daily lives in what they are doing in CS.”

Him: “So, I agree. You’re saying students should be able to create solutions for students of other races/ethnicities.”

Me: “NO! That’s NOT what I’m saying at all! THAT’S the problem! Students should be creating FOR THEMSELVES, not someone else doing it for them who doesn’t even look like them!!”

Once again, how are you going to figure out how to best help students who look like me get into a field when you a) don’t look like me and b) traditionally excluded me from said field? Seriously?

5. Not including or working with ACTUAL computer scientists of color.
Listen, this is a topic of conversation that I have with all of my amazing (and large) group of Black STEM Ph.D. friends weekly. All of these organizations you’re pumping money into, all of the people you see doing workshops or speaking engagements or media appearances on the topic of diversity in CS are never the ACTUAL computer scientists of color who are the REAL experts and MVPs. We read a new article on diversity in CS and then communicate in our inner circles about the frustrations we have that no one….NO ONE is reaching out to US to help solve the problem. No one is asking us to come present, speak, or participate in this projects, workshops, or initiatives to help solve the problem. No one is bringing us on as the lead in these types of projects. Yet, somehow WE are the actual unicorns you’re looking for. We’ve not only survived, but also THRIVED in a field where we had every reason to throw our hands up and change majors or careers. WE are the exact talent you claim you’re looking for more of and need.

Yet, WE, somehow, are never in the room when the decisions are made about what to do, who to speak to, how to make this work, or where to start. Instead, we’re told we’re not “Googley enough.” But, you want a more diverse and inclusive company. Yeah, ok.

If you REALLY want to make a change then I alone have a network of at least 20 Black Ph.D.’s in CS doing this exact work, for decades. That’s just the Ph.D. graduates. But now that it’s the hot topic and “popular,” you all overlook us cause, of course, you think you know better. How’s that working out for you?

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So you see, Facebook, Google, and hell I’ll throw in Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Yahoo, and every other company in Silicon Valley (cause each and every one of you deserve some of this shade I’m throwin), the problem isn’t us. It isn’t that WE aren’t in the pipeline and WE aren’t learning CS. It’s YOU. YOU choose to overlook us. YOU choose to create things like “Googley enough” as logical rationale for why you don’t hire someone you think doesn’t “fit” with current company culture (yet don’t want to acknowledge or admit this to the rest of the world). YOU choose people in leadership positions who don’t want to make waves and disrupt the status quo because, well, that means they have to take a stand and well, THAT ain’t happenin. YOU choose to heavily invest in and develop strong relationships and partnerships with the “good” schools. You know, the PWIs your current employees come from, where you have established relationships? Not the minority-serving institutions, which are producing a large pool of talent yearly that you could draw from. YOU choose to continue to think you can do a better job of developing programs to help YOUR employees be more inclusive in CS and help Black and Hispanic students than the actual Black and Hispanic computer scientists who live, eat, and breathe this works since birth.

But, until YOU admit your faults and actually include a lot of US in not ONLY the DISCUSSIONS but also the IMPLEMENTATION PLANS, you’re going to continue to point the finger our way and throw up a simple Kanye shrug as to why there aren’t more of US in YOUR companies. Shame on you.


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For that, you all deserve several seats, in the back….

Dr. Nicki Washington is a computer science professor and author of “Prepped for Success: What Every Parent Should Know About the College Application Process” and “Stay Prepped: 10 Steps to Succeeding in College (and Enjoying the Experience).” She is a featured speaker on computer science education, diversity in computer science and STEM, and preparing for college.

nicki@preppedforsuccess.com

Twitter: @dr_nickiw
Facebook: preppedforsuccess
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