Facebook’s response to its latest gender-bias complaint was incredibly tone-deaf

Facebook’s response to its latest gender-bias complaint was incredibly tone-deaf
Source: AP
Source: AP
opinion
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On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published a former Facebook employee's analysis that female engineers have their code rejected 35% more than their male colleagues. Facebook disputed the claim and told employees that leaking information can disgrace its "recruiting brand," according to the Guardian, which in turn could make it more difficult for Facebook to bring in more women.

This tone deaf response not only signals that Facebook prioritizes its public image over complaints of systemic bias within the company, but it reflects an attitude detrimental to building an inclusive work environment. Having recruiters sugar coat or neglect to disclose allegations of gender discrimination in the workplace misleads potential hires. Recruitment teams should be transparent with them about where the company can improve in terms of diversity and inclusion rather than falsely lead them on to believe they are entering a workforce free of any unconscious bias or discrimination.

Valerie Aurora, principal consultant at Frame Shift Consulting, which helps tech companies create diverse and inclusive cultures, believes that what damages Facebook's recruiting brand is not the leaked information, but the way the company reacted to it.

"What hurts Facebook's recruiting brand is their unwillingness to talk frankly and openly about pervasive bias in their company culture," Aurora said in an email. "Women and members of other marginalized groups see Facebook's defensive response to stories like these and think, 'That's how my manager will react when I tell them about my co-workers mistreating me.'"

When Mic reached out to Facebook to ask whether CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted to gender bias within the company, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, a spokesperson didn't address discrimination within the company or ways in which Facebook might investigate why a female employee might've felt compelled to conduct such an analysis to begin with.

"As we have explained, the Wall Street Journal is relying on analysis that is incomplete and inaccurate – performed by a former Facebook engineer with an incomplete data set," a Facebook spokesperson said. "Any meaningful discrepancy based on the complete data is clearly attributable not to gender but to seniority of the employee. In fact, the discrepancy simply reaffirms a challenge we have previously highlighted – the current representation of senior female engineers both at Facebook and across the industry is nowhere near where it needs to be."

Aurora said that rather than work on employee recruitment and retention in the engineering department, Facebook retaliated against the former employee who conducted the analysis as well as her findings.

"Facebook couldn't have sent a clearer message: don't talk about bias at Facebook, because if you do, we will attack you personally and professionally," Aurora said.