The tech industry has long had to contend with calls to improve recruitment and retention of women and members of minority groups. Facebook released its first-ever diversity report in 2014 and has since committed to creating a more inclusive workforce. But, nearly seven years after the report's findings, the social media giant admits it still has a long way to go.

Maxine Williams, chief diversity officer at Facebook, spoke to Cheddar from the all-virtual SXSW to talk about the very real story that, while overall diversity growth has been slow, the company has made significant changes in its recruiting, retention, and promotion practices in order to reach its goals.

"We've grown the number of Black people in non-technical roles from 2 percent to almost 9 percent. It's like a 400 percent increase. In technical roles, 100 percent increase. We've increased women from 15 percent of our technical roles to almost 25 percent," Williams said. "That's proper growth, but still, there's so much more we want to do."

Some Tactics Work, Others Don't

In 2014, a year after Williams was brought on at Facebook to improve its diversity practices, Hispanic employees made up just 4 percent of the company's staff, and Black employees were just 2 percent of the company's workforce. Today, those numbers have slightly increased to 6.3 percent and 3.9 percent respectively.

Women made up 31 percent of the company employees in 2014 and are still just 37 percent of today's workforce at Facebook.

Williams noted that not every diversity expansion tactic has been successful, but being able to learn and improve on failed ideas is how Facebook and other tech companies can eventually find working solutions.

One of those solutions, according to Williams, was to expand recruiting pools for new hires and internships especially, so that the company has a hand in training students and establishing a relationship to potentially offer them jobs post-graduation. 

Supporting Women as Job Losses Spike

In a year where women have exponentially lost jobs due to prioritizing responsibilities at home over career, Williams said companies should actively work with women employees, understand their needs, and find solutions where they do not have to choose between making a living and taking care of loved ones.

"We've been giving COVID leave since the pandemic broke out in order to allow people to maintain their jobs and also deal with everything they need to deal with for their own health and for their families," she said. "You have to be willing to invest in people's economic well-being. How are you setting people up to be able to get through this? We've been giving stipends, for instance, for every employee to be able to have the equipment they need to work from home."

Having Grace Is Key

Williams also noted simply being human and understanding that the country is going through an unprecedented time is essential for helping women, in particular, as they juggle career and family responsibilities.

Diversity at Facebook is a goal that will remain a priority for the tech giant, according to Williams, as it looks to have a platform that reflects and relates to the multitude of backgrounds of its users.

"So, the way it's connected is that our mission is to build for everyone, to give everyone voice in the world, and to make people able to build stronger communities through connection," she stated.

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