Just one day after Mark Zuckerberg’s internal memo leaked, which asked employees to stop crossing out Black Lives Matter slogans, Facebook hosted more than 200 African-American students from the San Francisco Bay Area. The day-long field trip to Facebook this past Friday, which had been weeks in the making as part of Black History Month, was spearheaded by the employee resource group Black@FB and Facebook’s community engagement team. It included a tour of the Menlo Park campus, a career panel, a presentation on Facebook’s recently-launched TechPrep program to help grow the pipeline of underrepresented people in tech, an informative session on internships, as well as other activities.
“When diversity is working well, if you have a system that’s scaling well, there will never be one point of success or failure,” Facebook Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams told me. “So that is our goal. It is a wonderful thing when there is a diversity event and I have nothing to do with it. I had nothing to do with this.”
Although Williams started TechPrep, the community engagement team has since taken it over. Williams went on to say that the program “shouldn’t be owned by the diversity team.” Instead, Tech Prep, as well as other initiatives launched by the diversity team, should become deeply embedded throughout all of Facebook’s teams and overall culture.
“One of the underpinnings is that through the diversity efforts and through the efforts of others, we have gotten the whole company to be much more focused on root issues,” Williams said. “You can keep trimming the branches here, but with those issues going on in the root, you’re never going to get a healthy tree growing. Our focus on what are the root issues — what is causing there to be less opportunity for some, more for others? What’s causing there to be a more robust pipeline for some talent and less for others? — has inspired people to do more kinds of these events.”
The ultimate goal of the event was to teach students about opportunities in tech, as well as to debunk the myth that in order to work at a tech company, you need to know how to code. Before coming to Facebook on Friday, Henry Davis, a junior at St. Ignatius College Preparatory had never visited a tech company. He also didn’t realize there were so many job opportunities at tech companies outside of coding.
“It’s far more expansive than that, which is a dangerous stigma that tech companies have because it’s what sways people away,” Davis said. “There are a lot of people like myself who are not extremely gifted in the STEM field and they look at the tech industry and say, ‘well this is a very STEM-oriented place,’ but it’s not STEM-exclusive, which is the one thing that people lack the proper information to know.”
Linda Jordan, a parent and community coordinator at San Francisco Unified School District’s Mission High School, helped bring a handful of students — some interested in graphic design and some who already know how to code — to Facebook.
“I’m hoping that the students who are present today will realize that the tech industry is not an industry that does not want them,” Jordan said. Though, it’s worth noting that the tech industry is not a diverse place. Facebook, for example, is only 2% black. Going forward, Jordan says she expects to have follow-up conversations with the students about internships, college applications and selecting a major.
QuinSi Dominguez, a junior at Mission High School, is one of the students who already knows how to code. Dominguez, who told me she’s interested in pursuing a career in graphic design and marketing, is able to code in Python and HTML. Dominguez envisions herself one day working at Facebook full-time, so she was eager to learn more about what it would be like to work at such an influential tech company. She had visited Facebook once before when she was in sixth grade, but this trip had more significance for her.
“Now I’m much older and I have a need to know this stuff, like the internship opportunities, how they want to try to help the community, and try to push them to do high school internships,” Dominguez. “Maybe I can possibly be here one day, even sooner than I’d think.”