A Recruiter Joined Facebook to Help It Meet Its Diversity Targets. He Says Its Hiring Practices Hurt People of Color.
Elizabeth Dwoskin and Nitasha Tiku, Washington Post, April 6, 2021
Rhett Lindsey was so eager to work at Facebook, he applied for a job there three times. When he finally got the offer to become a recruiter for highly paid engineers, he says, he jumped at the chance to help the social network push for greater employee diversity in its ranks.
Eight months later, in August 2020, Lindsey attended a virtual meeting to discuss the company’s goal of hiring more Black engineers. In the meeting, a White manager played a Drake song in the background whose chorus repeats the phrase “Where the [n-word]s be at?” five times, according to videos of the incident reviewed by The Washington Post.
Lindsey asked in the chat system why they were playing the song, then said he was “really disappointed,” according to the video. Nine other employees who were present in the meeting echoed his frustrations by putting emoji expressing shock alongside his comment.
“It shows you the insensitivity and the lack of awareness,” Lindsey said. A manager subsequently apologized, according to the video.
The country was in the midst of a historic reckoning over racial justice, and Facebook had just set an ambitious hiring goal of 30 percent more people of color in leadership by 2025.
But Lindsey and other current and former Black employees involved in hiring — as well as potential recruits who filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last summer — describe a problematic system that makes it difficult to achieve that and other diversity goals. They say the company has adopted metrics that prompt recruiters to go through the motions without actually delivering talent. Even the diverse candidates who are brought in can be rejected over vague concepts such as “cultural fit.” They also say that the problem goes deeper than hiring and that many employees of color feel alienated by the social network’s culture.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the company is focused on advancing racial justice in the workplace and in recruiting. “We’ve added diversity and inclusion goals to senior leaders’ performance reviews. We take seriously allegations of discrimination and have robust policies and processes in place for employees to report concerns, including concerns about microaggressions and policy violations,” he said. He did not address the incident involving the Drake song.
Lindsey quit the company in November, just 11 months after he started, and has since founded a start-up.
Facebook is facing a federal investigation launched last summer by the EEOC into allegations of bias in hiring, promotion and pay, according to the complaint. The EEOC has since expanded the case into a systemic probe, a special designation that means the agency is examining whether company practices may be contributing to widespread discrimination and is assessing the potential to bring a broader lawsuit representing an entire class of workers, according to the lawyers representing the complainants.
In the EEOC complaint, three Black job applicants say they met all the advertised job qualifications but were rejected after going through the interview process. They say they were told by Facebook interviewers that the company was looking for people who would fit in culturally. One candidate, whose lawyer requested The Post withhold her name because parts of the complaint are not public, said she was told by a Facebook hiring manager, “There’s no doubt you can do the job, but we’re really looking for a culture fit,” but was not given any further explanation.
“Culture fit” is an ill-defined term for whether a candidate is a good match for a company’s internal culture.
A Facebook operations manager who is identified in the complaint, Oscar Veneszee Jr., who is Black and still works at Facebook, said in an interview that he submitted more than half a dozen qualified applicants who were underrepresented minorities for jobs at Facebook but that all were rejected. He said he suspected it was because they failed the cultural-fit test.
“When I was interviewing at Facebook, the thing I was told constantly was that I needed to be a culture fit, and when I tried to recruit people, I knew I needed to find people who were a culture fit,” he said. “But, unfortunately, not many people I knew could pass that challenge because the culture here does not reflect the culture of Black people.”
Facebook’s Stone said the company’s recruiters do not assess cultural fit. Rather, he said, the company looks to see whether skills and behaviors exhibited in the interview process — such as responses to questions about what a person might do in a particular scenario — align with Facebook’s values.
Racial issues at Facebook have been particularly acute over the last year because of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to give wide latitude to racially divisive comments by President Donald Trump during last summer’s protests, and because of the company’s role in providing a platform for extremist groups that espouse white-supremacist ideas. The decision to leave up Trump’s comments was of particular concern to workers of color, some of whom met personally with senior leaders to protest the decision; others have left the company. Facebook software engineer Ashok Chandwaney quit publicly in the fall, citing unease with the social media giant’s role in fueling hate.
Zuckerberg’s decision “created such lack of psychological safety on all kinds of levels, and Black employees in particular didn’t know how to truly process that,” said a former Black executive who cited the decision as one of her reasons for resigning.
Facebook is one of several Silicon Valley companies, including Google and Microsoft, to announce ambitious diversity targets in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis. But years of tech companies’ annual diversity reports show only incremental progress on increasing the ratio of Black and Latino employees, as well as high attrition rates among Black women, supported by recent accounts of racial bias and inequities in pay and promotion from Black women at Google, Pinterest and Amazon.
Google’s leadership is more than 95 percent White or Asian and 73 percent male, and Facebook’s is more than 87 percent White or Asian and 66 percent male, according to the companies’ 2020 diversity reports.
Currently, just over 85 percent of its workforce is White or Asian, and more than 90 percent of those in highly compensated technical roles are White or Asian, according to its annual diversity report. That is down from 91 percent of the overall workforce and 94 percent of the technical workforce in 2014, when the company first published its annual diversity report.