USA Today: Maxine Williams: The face of Facebook on diversity

maxine williams facebook

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Maxine Williams is very visible on the Facebook campus. And not just because she's one of the few black people working here.

With its ambitions encircling the globe, diversity has become a top priority at the giant social network. As global head of diversity, Williams is the one charged with making Facebook's workforce better reflect the demographics of its users.

Like most major high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, the giant social network is mostly staffed by white and Asian men. Yet Facebook users are predominantly women and span every race and ethnicity. Most of the more than 1.3 billion users are not even in North America.

That means Facebook must tap a variety of perspectives, experiences and backgrounds, Williams said in an interview.

"For Facebook, diversity is imperative to our future growth," she said. "If we don't get it right, we risk losing relevance in an incredibly diverse world."

Facebook began owning up to its diversity problem last year.

In 2014, leading technology companies released data showing they vastly underemploy African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

Technology companies are mainly staffed by men. African-Americans and Hispanics make up 5% of the companies' workforces compared with 14% nationally.

That's a serious challenge for the high-tech industry. Whites are expected to become a minority in the USA by 2044, and Latino and African-American buying power is on the rise.

Intel last week pledged $300 million to the hiring and retention of women and underrepresented minorities, the largest investment yet in a diversity initiative by a technology company.

Though Facebook caters to a broad cross-section of consumers, it employs few blacks and Hispanics.

2% of U.S. Facebook workers are black

Four percent of Facebook's workers in the U.S. are Hispanic, 2% are black.Fewer than a third of its workers around the world are women.

To attract more blacks and Hispanics, Williams says Facebook is trying to make it known "that we want you."

Facebook is supporting programs such as YesWeCode and Code2040 that are trying to grow the ranks of minorities in high-tech. It has been working with students and the administrations of historically black universities and colleges.

And it has initiatives to recruit more underrepresented minorities including Facebook University, an internship program for college freshmen interested in computer science, and Facebook Academy, a summer internship program for Bay Area high school students from underserved communities.

"Diversity brings so much more to the table - and by focusing outside of the usual and rewarding all sorts of people in tech - we can only make it better. #YesWeCode is doing exactly that."
- Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple