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A diverse workplace leads to better decisions: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook's business departments have an equal representation of men and women, but the tech workforce is still overwhelmingly male.

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Diversity is the new buzzword in Silicon Valley after a much-publicized ‘Anti-Diversity Manifesto’ penned by a senior Google engineer threatened to expose the Valley’s blatant gender bias, and made several top employers uncomfortable. The gender disparity, both in workforce representation and compensation, is for real. Despite stray efforts to correct that, Google and many others have failed. In an interview with Bloomberg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, one of the most powerful women in tech, says that while women make up half of her organization’s “business” departments, on the tech side, “it remains a struggle”.

Much of this disparity stems from a dearth of resources, i.e. an absence of women who are skilled in tech. Only about 16 percent of Computer Science graduates in the US are women. That is less than half of what it was in the 1980s when the overall industry was small. And that’s hardly encouraging. “In order to hire computer scientists, we have to persuade more women to go into CS,” says Sandberg. Facebook is doing its bit through the Facebook Internship Program and the Facebook University. “We tried to find women and under-represented minorities who we thought could be getting into CS. So, we could get them earlier and invest in them,” Sandberg explains.

Sandberg reveals that the numbers continue to be low though. “They are low for women. They are low for under-represented minorities… and that’s a problem because it’s hurting us,” she says. This is no the first time that Sandberg, a former VP at Google, has brought to light the gender gap in Silicon Valley. In her bestselling book Lean In (2013), she recounted being shocked after having discovered that there was no women’s room in a leading VC firm’s headquarters. This was back in the 2000s and Sandberg was told by a male investor: “They don’t make it to this table.” ALSO READ: Google’s gender ratios show that it is hardly delivering on promises of inclusion

In Sandberg’s opinion, a diverse workplace leads to better decision-making. “Equal opportunity benefits us all. We need to help everyone understand that equality is necessary for our industry and economy,” she wrote in a Quora discussion thread in 2015. Sandberg confessed to having thought that she wouldn’t “fit in” at Facebook when she joined in 2008. One of the things that plagues Silicon Valley companies is ‘Unconscious Bias’ and Facebook is training its employees to check that. “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,” Sandberg wrote. ALSO READ: Google, you have the responsibility of engaging with divergent views

The course Managing Bias was developed by Facebook to create a more inclusive culture within the company. It brings Facebook employees in a room and makes them understand how they unconsciously contribute to biased judgement over a candidate’s merit and talent. While it has surely helped Facebook hire more racially diverse people, when it comes to gender, an overwhelming majority of its global tech workforce is male. Surely, Silicon Valley has a long way to go.

  • Published Date: August 10, 2017 11:23 AM IST
  • Updated Date: August 10, 2017 12:32 PM IST