Facebook Blames Diversity Problem on Public Education System


Facebook on Thursday blamed lackluster technology education at the high school level for the difficulties it faces in diversifying its workforce.

"It has become clear that at the most fundamental level, appropriate representation in technology or any other industry will depend upon more people having the opportunity to gain necessary skills through the public education system," Maxine Williams, Facebook's Global Director of Diversity, said in a statement.

Her comments came as Facebook released its latest diversity stats. The percentage of women in positions of leadership has increased in the last year from 23 to 27 percent, while the percentage of black employees in non-tech roles is up from 3 to 5 percent, Williams pointed out.

The social network, however, is still largely a boys club. As of June 30, about 67 percent of Facebook employees are men, 83 percent of whom work in tech-related positions. Men also hold 73 percent of senior leadership jobs.

About 52 percent of all US employees are white, 38 percent are Asian, 4 percent are Hispanic, 2 percent are black, and 3 percent are bi- or multi-racial. Of those who work in tech-related field, about 48 percent are white, 46 percent are Asian, 3 percent are Hispanic, and 1 percent are black, and 2 percent are bi- or multi-racial.

"We still have a long way to go, but as we continue to strive for greater change, we are encouraged by positive hiring trends," Williams said.

It would help, she argued, if high schools had more robust computer science programs, something President Obama pushed for in February.

"Currently, only 1 in 4 US high schools teach computer science," she wrote. "In 2015, seven states had fewer than 10 girls take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam and no girls took the exam in three states. No Black people took the exam in nine states including Mississippi where about 50 percent of high school graduates are Black, and 18 states had fewer than 10 Hispanics take the exam with another five states having no Hispanic AP Computer Science (CS) test takers. This has to change."

As a result, Facebook has committed $15 million to Code.org over the next five years, one of serveral learn-to-code resources available online.

Last year, Facebook also founded TechPrep, an online resource in English and Spanish for parents, guardians, and future programmers, Williams wrote. It also runs the Facebook University (FBU) program, a training program focused on undergraduate college students from underrepresented groups. And it supports the Computer Science and Engineering (CS&E) Lean In Circles program, which aims to support women already in college who show an interest in computer science.

Facebook is also pushing "recruiters to look longer, harder and smarter for more diversity in the qualified talent pool," she wrote, and offers employee training on managing unconscious bias.

Microsoft Professional Degree
The Facebook news comes as Microsoft announced a Professional Degree program.

Aimed at people in any stage of their career, the Microsoft-led initiative promises real-world knowledge and hands-on experience. The first MPD program covers data science; a series of 10 courses is available online at edX.org, where students who earn a passing grade receive a digitally shareable credential.

"Data science is currently one of the hottest areas in technology and the need for data scientists is only expected to grow," according to Redmond's FAQ.

For each required course taken on edX during this pilot, students must purchase a verified certificate; costs vary by course and prices are subject to change. Currently, orientation costs $25 and the Statistical Thinking for Data Science and Analytics is $99. All other classes cost $49. Users may audit any courses, including the associated hands-on labs, for free, but must pay to receive credit toward the MPD.

More than 200 learning partners—including DDLS, Fast Lane, NIIT, and QA—and 650 Microsoft employees have been evaluating the platform and curriculum in a closed preview since May.

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