Tech veteran Mark Luckie left his role at Facebook this month, but not before sending a warning to the company as well as to the other minorities there: "Facebook has a black people problem." The now-viral note is as eloquent as it is tough, and it should be taken seriously by the beleaguered company.
In short, diversity is Facebook's key to survival, but it isn't honoring the people there. Luckie was Strategic Partner Manager for Global Influencers, so he has a privileged view.
Little action, then no follow-through
Luckie gives a tip of the hat to Facebook for hiring more diverse people. But actually getting their input? Not so much.
There has been a wave of hiring in the last two years of employees specifically focused on representing the voices of diverse communities.
However, what's been missing in many cases is a plan of action for how their work will roll up into the greater team goals. According to shared feedback, these employees sometimes find their resources for carrying out diversity initiatives are deprioritized in favor of team-wide efforts that impact broader communities. For some, their work devolves into serving as an address book to add a few names of color to projects. Efforts that promote inclusion, not just diversity, are being halted at the managerial level.
African-Americans are one of the most engaged demographics on Facebook and its properties, including Instagram, Luckie says, and yet the Draconian terms of service and automated content removal systems have systematically hurt minorities more than other groups:
We can assume good intent. We can also assert that there is a pervasive problem at the company that needs to be addressed promptly in order to stem the tide of apathy. "We're thinking about it" can only hold us over for so long. Facebook can't engender the trust of its black users if it can't maintain the trust of its black employees.
Same story, different times
When I lived in Silicon Valley a decade ago, the discussion was a little more vague: Was there a culture problem there at all? Major VCs and founders said they would be happy to hire more women and people of color--if only they existed. At the same time, my fellow diverse Bay Area tech entrepreneurs and I looked at each other confused. It was as if we didn't exist.
It was the pipeline fallacy, which, even at the time, didn't sound plausible. In 2011, I shared my take with media disruptor Violet Blue:
Other areas, such as science and mathematics, historically had the same "that's just the way it is" bias towards minorities until a wider discussion occurred, and we recognized and, more importantly, began to correct the systematic barriers to diversity. [This] awkward commentary on race is a symptom, not a problem, of Silicon Valley's arrogant assumption that it is above the fray.
And, a decade later, it still isn't above the fray. As Arlan Hamilton, Morgan DeBaun, and other leaders build a new generation of entrepreneurs, it's hard to believe that Facebook and other legacy brands are not taking their diversity seriously. If anything, diverse viewpoints could have helped them see the crises before they hit.
Or, more likely, the lack of new ideas may be Facebook's next real crisis.