Workforce Diversity in Tech Companies

The other day, my news feed popped up an article that referenced one on bloomberg.com titled “Facebook’s Hiring Process Hinders its Efforts to Create a Diverse Workforce”. See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-09/facebook-s-hiring-process-hinders-its-effort-to-create-a-diverse-workforce. Because I work in a tech environment and I’ve helped my company’s HR people understand how to recruit tech employees, I was intrigued.

Briefly, starting in 2015, Facebook recruiters received incentives to place minority people in engineering positions. After two years, there was essentially no effect — the percentages of various minorities hadn’t changed much. The article blamed this no-change on the fact that technical managers at Facebook had hiring approval authority.

facebookdiversityarticle

So, I scrolled down to the comments section of the aggregation site, knowing exactly what I’d find. As expected, commenters were outraged. A typical mild comment was something like, “So Facebook is surprised that managers hire based on ability instead of race or gender!?” Most comments (48 out of the first 50 I scanned) were a lot harsher.

This article led me to look up research (as opposed to opinion) on the topic of workforce diversity. The central research paper appears to be “Demography and Diversity in Organizations: A Review of 40 Years of Research” by K. Williams and C. O’Reily III. The review’s key findings are:

1. The research suggests that dissimilarity of individuals’ general backgrounds (things other than race, gender, age) may improve creativity due to conflict, but does not improve process implementation.

2. In general, gender diversity has negative effects on process and is associated with high turnover rates, especially when men are in a female-dominated group.

3. Ethnic diversity, unless successfully managed, has negative effects on group process.

OK, none of those research results is surprising. But what was interesting to me is that I had to dig deeply to find actual research results, and the results I found didn’t seem to be well known or published in general media.

In the end, every tech company is different, and diversity in a particular group may or may not be advantageous. I work in a really, really diverse workplace. I don’t place too much stock in either the research or spewed opinions. I just like to write algorithms. But tech company diversity efforts are a mildly interesting topic anyway.

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