As part of his trip to all 50 US states to show off that he’s just a regular guy, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited the historically black North Carolina A&T State University on Monday, where he fielded questions from students about technology, politics, media and, of course, diversity.
Photo: Facebook/Mark Zuckerberg
He blew it.
Zuck should have expected questions about diversity, but he still gave an embarrassingly longwinded, rambling non-answer riddled with misinformation. During the Q&A, a PhD student addressed the overwhelming whiteness of the Silicon Valley and business communities, asking, “What do you intend to do about that and what advice would you give to us as minorities to strategically navigate the entrepreneurial world so that we can be included?”
“Frankly, I think that that’s our problem to figure out,” Zuckerberg began, before talking about why diversity is important. A shaky start — why wouldn’t black students know about the importance of diversity? He then explained that Facebook “has had to build specific teams” to focus on diversity and that he’s particularly invested in unconscious bias training for his hiring mangers.
“We do this really rigorous training for every manager on Facebook,” he said, “because a lot of people who think they care about diversity actually have a lot of these biases that hold them back.”
Zuckerberg can talk about unconscious bias training and focusing on diverse recruitment all he wants, but here’s the thing: Facebook is less than two per cent black.
In 2015, Facebook listed only 145 black employees out of 8446 in total. That makes it the least black technology company among its peers, falling behind Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple. So for Mark to get up in front of a room of black students and speak favourably about his personal stance on diversity is both absurd and insulting. He can espouse a commitment to inclusion all he wants, but his company’s demographics don’t reflect it.
Zuckerberg continued to emphasise why unconscious bias training is so important, telling the students, “it’s often the people who think they’re doing the best who are doing the worst,” an observation that, as Facebook’s own numbers demonstrate, could easily apply to himself. It only got worse when he began speaking about the workforce.
“There’s a very clear dynamic in the world right now where there’s way more demand for engineers than there are engineers,” Zuckerberg said.
Research suggests the opposite: That there isn’t a shortage of engineers or STEM field workers in general. That’s doubly true for black university graduates. Although black students reportedly earn 4.5 per cent of all computer science and engineering degrees, they make up only two per cent of the Silicon Valley workforce. Yet Zuckerberg told these students that there are more than enough jobs for them.
Zuckerberg has a long way to go and a lot to prove — and this didn’t work at all. While trying to seem like an informed, likeable, regular guy, the Facebook CEO came across as none of the above.