Facebook Under Fire: Company investigated for ‘systemic’ racial bias in hiring

March 28, 2021

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The tech giant is currently under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), amid allegations that its hiring and promotion policies are potentially impacted by systemic racial bias.

What does this mean?

Following discrimination claims, Facebook is under investigation by the EEOC, a US federal agency enforcing laws against workplace discrimination. ‘Systemic’ refers to the idea that company practices contribute to widespread discrimination. In Facebook’s case, the claimants, consisting of 3 applicants and 1 employee, allege that they were discriminated against as black candidates, due to certain systems in place relying on subjective evaluations that promote racial stereotypes. For example, one policy involves bonuses of up to $5,000 if a candidate that an employee has referred is hired. As referrals tend to reflect the demographic of existing employees, with a meagre 3.9% of Facebook’s US employees being black, this policy clearly puts them at a disadvantage.

The EEOC typically resolve disputes using mediation or by suing employers, however systemic investigations involve additional resources, such as bringing in investigators to analyse company data. Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, elected not to comment on the specifics of the allegations, or the investigation’s current status, simply stating that providing employees with a ‘respectful and safe working environment’ is ‘essential’.

What's the big picture effect?

The tech industry is well-known for its lack of diversity, with even the largest companies struggling to diversify. This issue was once blamed on there simply being a lack of qualified candidates, however this has since been publicly challenged, with increasing awareness of the part that biased employment practices play.

With technology taking over our daily lives, it’s important that it represents the diverse society that we live in. The industry has previously faced scrutiny following several examples of products, such as soap dispensers and facial recognition technology, struggling to recognise black people, which many believe could be avoided with more black employees working within the industry.

Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, many companies, including the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, and Tinder, showed their support for the cause, vowing to implement strategies to revise hiring practice. Recent years have also seen an influx of insight days, coding bootcamps, and other initiatives in an effort to help more women and BAME people break into the industry. However, systemic bias is often harder to tackle due to its implicit nature and the fact that it’s often unconscious.

Although it could be months before we are told the result of the investigation, this allegation is not the first of this nature. Last year, the Justice Department accused Facebook of giving hiring preference to temporary workers, such H-1B visa holders. If found guilty of any wrongdoing, a broader lawsuit, resulting in a multimillion dollar settlement could potentially be on the cards. We saw this with Google earlier this year, as the company shelled out $3.8m, following allegations of hiring and pay discrimination regarding women, and Asian candidates and employees.

Facebook has continued to fall short of their ambitious 2024 goal, which is for half the workforce to consist of employees from underrepresented groups. Oscar Veneszee, an operations manager at the company, stated that despite these goals, Facebook has failed in creating a culture that “finds, grows and keeps” black people. This suggests that the investigation threatens to further alienate black applicants, making the company’s aims even less attainable. Furthermore, with large corporations influencing other businesses in the industry, if evidence of systemic bias is found, it’s likely we will see many other companies re-evaluating practices too.

Report written by Lotanna Okaro 

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