Facebook has recently come under scrutiny for gender bias, as summarized by a Wall Street Journal article on Tuesday that reported on several studies about sexism within the company. The same day, Facebook’s head of human resources responded internally to the story by blaming leakers for damaging the company’s “recruiting brand.”
The article described an analysis conducted by one of Facebook engineers last year, which concluded that female coders had their work rejected 35% more often than male coders (an unrelated study last year found that women’s code was accepted more frequently than men’s when their gender was unknown).
In response to that evaluation, Facebook itself conducted an inquiry that came to a different conclusion: that the 35% disparity is related to workers’ length of employment at the company, not gender bias. A spokesperson for Facebook called the original analysis “incomplete and inaccurate,” but acknowledged that a problematic gap exists between the number of male and female employees at the senior engineering level.
Facebook is concerned that media coverage of these issues will damage its ability to recruit women. Lori Goler, the company’s head of human resources, responded to the WSJ article in a confidential memo to Facebook employees that was leaked to The Guardian. Goler wrote:
“A key factor in our ability to recruit more women in engineering is our recruiting brand. Unfortunately, a story based on factually incorrect data that paints us in a negative light will almost certainly hurt our ability to attract more women, and it isn’t great for those of us working here, either. In other words, this moves us in the exact wrong direction.”
Per Goler’s reasoning, greater transparency about Facebook’s flaws impedes the company from fixing those flaws. That may be true, though it’s likely to also hurt Facebook’s recruitment efforts if potential employees think that the company cares more about public perception of its gender bias than the bias itself.
Hopefully Facebook is able to come to terms with its gender disparity and “do better.”