Facebook shares its diversity training course with all

As the tech industry eyes ways to improve its diversity, the social network publishes an internal training course on "managing unconscious bias."

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Facebook is sharing diversity training it provides to its employees with the outside world. Facebook

Facebook, the world's largest social network, wants to eliminate "bias" in the hiring process -- and not just at Facebook.

Facebook on Tuesday launched a new page called "Managing Unconscious Bias," which features a training course and several informational videos aimed at improving diversity in the workplace. The training course, which was developed by Facebook, educates would-be employers and job-seekers on the realities of bias in the hiring process. The training was previously provided to Facebook employees.

"One of the most important things we can do to promote diversity in the workplace is to correct for the unconscious bias that all of us have," Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, wrote in a post Tuesday announcing Facebook's decisions to publish the training course. "Studies show that job applicants with 'black sounding names' are less likely to get callbacks than those with 'white sounding names' - and applicants called Jennifer are likely to be offered a lower salary than applicants called John. And organizations which consider themselves highly meritocratic can actually show more bias."

Facebook is one of the biggest technology companies in the world with over 10,000 employees. However, like most of Silicon Valley, workplace diversity continues to be an issue for the company. In June, Facebook reported that 68 percent of its employees are men, and in technology-related roles, males made up 84 percent of its workforce. Just over half of Facebook's employees are white.

Facebook is not alone. Twitter last July revealed that 70 percent of its workforce was male and that 88 percent of its employee base was white or Asian. In June, Google released its own diversity report, saying that only 30 percent of its workforce is female. Latino workers make up 3 percent of Google's employee base, and African American workers represent 2 percent.

Silicon Valley tech companies, which tend to be white and male dominated, have come under increasing scrutiny in the past year over the treatment of women and minorities, with some companies facing high-profile lawsuits and charges of discrimination. As the tech industry's influence has grown, so have concerns over how diversity (or a lack thereof) can impact global issues, including employee benefits and health programs.

Facebook's attempt to address "unconscious bias" is part of its broader strategy to improve workplace diversity. In June, Facebook said it started a new program within a handful of divisions that requires the applicant pool for a job to include at least one minority. A Facebook spokeswoman said at the time that the program is similar to the Rooney Rule, referring to a regulation imposed by the National Football League requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other senior football operation jobs.

The Rooney Rule -- which was enacted in 2003 -- has proven successful: 22 percent of NFL coaches are now African American, up from 6 percent before the regulation was put into effect.

To address its own issues, Google has pledged $150 million to focus on diversity initiatives this year. Apple CEO Tim Cook, whose company last year revealed that its workforce is 70 percent male, said the industry in general hasn't done enough to attract women. He added that diversity, in addition to being an ethical charge for a company, is one that could boost its financial performance.

"The most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that," Cook said in June on the sidelines of his company's Worldwide Developers Conference. "If you believe as we believe that diversity leads to better products, and we're all about making products that enrich people's lives, then you obviously put a ton of energy behind diversity the same way you would put a ton of energy behind anything else that is truly important."

Sandberg echoed Cook's comments in her own blog post on Tuesday, saying that diversity can create "high-performing organizations." But managing bias, she said, can have a profoundly positive impact on all aspects of life.

"We know we still have a long way to go," she wrote "but by helping people recognize and correct for bias, we can take a step towards equality - at work, at home and in everyday life."

Facebook declined comment beyond Sandberg's blog post.