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Facebook Refutes Gender Bias Claim Made By Former Engineer, Says Analysis Was Based On An 'Incomplete Data Set'

4 May 2017, 1:58 am EDT By Carl Velasco Tech Times
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Facebook's female engineers are less likely to get their code accepted than their male engineer counterparts. That's according to an internal study reported by The Wall Street Journal, which puts in question Facebook's efforts to foster diversity.

At present, only 33 percent of Facebook's workforce is composed of females. An astounding number by Silicon Valley's standards, to be sure, but still an example of the lack of female employees in tech firms. Of all the women Facebook employs, only 17 percent hold technical roles, and only 27 percent assume leadership positions.

The report makes mention of an initial study a former employee conducted, through which it was discovered that code developed by Facebook's female engineers held lower chances of making it through the company's peer review system. The study found out that the code authored by females was held in higher scrutiny inside the company.

Facebook commissioned Jay Parikh, its head of infrastructure, to perform another study after learning about the first set of findings. The second study's findings suggest that code rejections were because of engineering rank, instead of gender.

But the amusing thing about Parikh's findings is that it paved the way for another problem altogether. Facebook's employees now speculate the second findings imply either two things: that female engineers aren't rising to the ranks at a rate comparable to their male counterparts, or that they're leaving the company before receiving promotions. Regardless of which is true, both possibilities would render a 35 percent higher rejection rate for code written by female engineers.

Facebook Calls The First Study 'Inaccurate'

When The Wall Street Journal questioned Facebook about the first study, the company called it "incomplete and inaccurate," and that it was based on "incomplete data." However, Facebook did not deny Parikh's study. This points to either possibilities mentioned above being true, both of which paint a bleak picture of workforce diversity.

Facebook says that the lack of female engineers stretches far beyond the confines of its own offices; that it's an industry-wide issue that needs to be addressed. It's not an issue Facebook can solve alone.

Silicon Valley Gender Bias

There's no way to access the aforementioned studies, so whatever picture we're getting here is incomplete, truth be told. However, gender bias is no secret, especially in a place such as Silicon Valley, where men dominate the workforce.

But while this issue has long come out of the woodwork, it's particularly stressful to learn that Facebook might also have a gender bias problem, especially if CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to create the "social infrastructure" of a new global community, as laid out in a manifesto posted February.

If the majority of engineers helping shape this online fabric are male, then what does that say about diversity? About the sufficient, equal, and fair representation of complex human characteristics?

Of course, Facebook deserves the benefit of the doubt, as the initial study might have been flawed indeed, as Facebook claims. But given how rampant sexism is in the workplace, it's hard to imagine there's not a smattering of truth somewhere in those findings.

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