A recent spate of workforce diversity reports from Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn revealed what everybody already kind of knew: The makeup of the tech industry is thoroughly out of whack with the demographics of the Bay Area, the nation and its collective user base. So what now?
For Facebook, the answer starts with getting to the root of the problem, which it defines as unequal access to the skills and training that put a career in tech within reach. To address it, Facebook is partnering with #YesWeCode, a nonprofit whose aim is to teach coding to 100,000 youth from low-opportunity backgrounds.
“There’s this kind of disconnect where everyone in the industry is saying, ‘We have the jobs, we want to employ people,’ but, as you can see with the numbers, everyone’s struggling,” says Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global head of diversity. “We can’t get to the level of diversity we want despite putting lots of effort behind it.”
The first fruit of the new partnership is a search tool, built in part by volunteers at Facebook, that anyone can use to look up local programs that are already offering coding lessons free or at low cost. Right now, the tool only points to about 70 organizations nationwide, but the hope is lots more will join in after #YesWeCode officially launches it tomorrow at the Essence Festival in New Orleans.
“In its most simple form, a mother in South Carolina, for instance, could go to one place and put in ‘I have a boy, he’s 13, and we want to learn how to code this summer,’ and find a program nearby,” says Williams, who joined Facebook last September. “It’s a really basic thing, but as we did the research, we heard people saying, ‘I don’t even know where to put him.’”
The Facebook employees who worked on the tool all volunteered through an internal group called Pipeline Builders, started by the diversity team. “There’s a real hunger to solve this problem,” says Williams. “We constantly reinforce that diversity is everyone’s challenge, because we honestly believe that, with more diversity, we’ll build better products and you’ll have more dynamic experiences within the building.”