Ex-Facebook manager: black staffers face discrimination and exclusion
A former Facebook manager has accused the company of “failing” its black employees, saying they face widespread discrimination and exclusion and that the social network is biased against its black users.
A letter from Mark S Luckie, who recently stepped down as strategic partner manager for global influencers, provided a detailed account of racism and prejudice at the embattled Silicon Valley corporation, noting that “in some buildings, there are more ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters than there are actual black people”.
Black employees are often “aggressively accosted by campus security”, face discriminatory comments from managers, are “dissuaded” from participating in black employee groups, and reach a “dead end” when they go to HR, Luckie wrote in his letter published on Facebook on Tuesday and circulated internally to employees.
“To feel like an oddity at your own place of employment because of the color of your skin while passing posters reminding you to be your authentic self feels in itself inauthentic,” he wrote.
The memo argued that the underrepresentation of black employees, who make up 4% of the workforce, leads to practices that make the platform hostile to black users, such as unwarranted content removal and account suspensions.
Luckie has taken the unusual step of speaking out at a time in which Facebook is reeling from a litany of scandals, including revelations that the company hired a PR firm to target the billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros with attacks that echoed antisemitic conspiracy theories.
Black and Latino people have long faced systemic exclusion in Silicon Valley, and there is growing recognition that the overwhelming dominance of white men in leadership and engineering roles negatively affects the technology that is being built and the way major social networks operate. Tech workers, who have typically been reluctant to publicly criticize the powerful companies, have increasingly engaged in activism this year.
Luckie pointed to studies showing that black users have particularly high rates of engagement on Facebook. Still, they regularly face unfair moderation, he said, noting that Facebook has repeatedly complied with complaints of non-black users who falsely accuse black people of engaging in “hate speech”.
Last year, it was revealed that Facebook’s secretive censorship policies protected “white men” from hate speech. The company also faced intense backlash after it worked with police to remove a video of the Baltimore user Korryn Gaines, a black woman who was livestreaming her interaction with officers, who subsequently killed her.
Black employees are “frequently asked publicly and privately to volunteer their input for projects that involve race in some way”, Luckie wrote, saying they face questions such as, “What do black people think about…”, “Is this racist?” and “Is this graphic culturally appropriate?” These teams should instead be hiring people from the communities affected by their work, he added.
Diversity initiatives are often insufficient, he said: “Efforts that promote inclusion, not just diversity, are being halted at the managerial level.” Keynote presentations, he added, often have more diversity than the teams presenting them.
Luckie also said at least two or three times a day, a colleague at the Menlo Park headquarters would “look directly at me and tap or hold their wallet or shove their hands down their pocket to clutch it tightly until I pass”.
Facebook has admitted a lack of progress in key areas in its latest diversity report, including technical roles, which have remained at 1% black, and in leadership, which has remained at 2% black.
“The growth in representation of people from more diverse groups, working in many different functions across the company, is a key driver of our ability to succeed,” the Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison said in an email Tuesday. “We want to fully support all employees when there are issues reported and when there may be micro-behaviors that add up. We are going to keep doing all we can to be a truly inclusive company.”
Luckie, however, tweeted a screenshot of a message that he said was the only response he received from senior leadership after internally sharing his post earlier this month. That person, whose name was redacted, told Luckie his post was “self-serving and disingenuous” and part of a “selfish agenda”.
Luckie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Leslie Miley, a black engineer who previously spoke out about Twitter’s lack of diversity, said the “anti-blackness in tech is pervasive” and that he was not optimistic about Facebook making any substantive reforms.
“I don’t think I have any hope,” he said in an interview, noting that the Silicon Valley leaders responsible for persistently poor diversity numbers faced no consequences and were often promoted. “Year after year, there is no improvement. Why do they still have a job?”
The employees who are held accountable are people of color who push for change, he added: “They get marginalized out or they end up leaving because it’s no longer a place they can thrive. Those are the ones actually doing the work.”
Luckie’s message could encourage others to come forward, said Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director with Color of Change, a racial justice group scheduled to meet with Facebook this week.
“People inside are frustrated they are having these experiences and often they are working in isolation,” she said, adding that workers feared retaliation. “There is a corporate culture that is rotten to the core.”