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How Can We Learn from Facebook’s Diversity and Inclusion Mistakes?

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It’s a common thread we have seen time and time again in corporate America – a large company which is mostly white, or mostly men (or both), talks a big game about how they plan to be more inclusive. Then, shortly after that public declaration of how they’re such an inclusive company, an employee that is a member of a minority group publicly posts proof that the company is all talk and no action.

This time, the company in question is Facebook, and Mark Luckie – a black former employee who left in early November – posted a 2,500 word diatribe about how poorly black employees are not included. In his note, he writes about a number of concerning issues at Facebook, such as that “In some buildings, there are more 'Black Lives Matter' posters than there are actual black people.” This lack of diversity results in negative outcomes for the few black employees that actually exist there: “Black staffers at Facebook know that by raising our voices we risk jeopardizing our professional relationships and our career advancement.” Luckie discusses that this lack of inclusion and a hostile work environment leads to low productivity.

Furthermore, he explains, this has resulted in Facebook not being inclusive of its Black user-base. He describes a particularly worrying trend where, despite the fact that Black Facebook users are more engaged with the platform than the general population, “Black people are finding that their attempts to create "safe spaces" on Facebook for conversation among themselves are being derailed by the platform itself. Non-black people are reporting what are meant to be positive efforts as hate speech, despite them often not violating Facebook’s terms of service. Their content is removed without notice. Accounts are suspended indefinitely. Clearly, at least from Luckie’s perspective, while Facebook talks a lot about inclusion it doesn’t seem to be doing much about it (or at least what it is doing isn’t having enough of an effect).

Facebook has clearly recognized the importance of seeming inclusive, but when incidents like this happen where the company is exposed as having a reality different from what it says it is, those words of inclusivity come off as disingenuous. As a result, this approach can be even more damaging than simply owning up to the fact that it has a lot of work to do on the inclusion front.

This is the type of problem facing many organizations we work with. When it comes to diversity and inclusion initiatives, there has been an evolution; we started with Diversity 101, which was all about compliance. It asked the question, “what do we have to do in order to not break laws and not get sued?”  Ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination laws is extremely important, but it’s not enough. We then moved on to the marketing-led approach taken by many organizations (including, apparently, Facebook), called Diversity 2.0. However, this can lead us to situations like the one Facebook is in now.

What we need to do as a society is ensure companies move toward a new paradigm, what we call Inclusion 3.0. In this iteration of diversity and inclusion initiatives, Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is embedded in every aspect of the organization. It is thought of as a strategic business issue, as it should be given the benefits that can come from inclusive teams.

There is ample research, which Luckie touches on, that shows how important being inclusive is to organizational success. Diverse companies that are also inclusive are not just more productive, but they earn more money, are more innovative, make more accurate predictions, perform better on problem-solving tasks, and have higher rates of employee engagement and job satisfaction. Additionally, in the diverse world we live in, if Facebook wants to continue creating products that serve the population it needs an employee-base that accurately reflects the diversity of its customers.

Luckie’s memo is not just an angry rant, though, it has a number of recommendations at the end that Facebook would do well to take seriously. In particular, Luckie’s suggestion of doing a D&I audit could be extremely useful. It would give a chance for minority employees to voice concerns and would also help to identify which non-inclusive behaviours are affecting which groups, and to what extent. Gaining that knowledge is critical to ensuring that the right interventions are put in place and progress is actually being made.

Facebook is one of the largest corporations in the world, and with more than 2.7 billion users it is also one of the most influential. If it wants to use its influence for good, then it needs to become more inclusive. If it doesn’t, instead of fulfilling its mission “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” it will only further marginalize minority groups and push the world further apart.