After layoffs, Meta, tech companies face uphill battle to boost diversity

Brit Levy’s Meta coffee cup on the family’s art desk. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Alisha Jucevic

Brit Levy, 35, was eager to join Meta’s paid training program for aspiring human resources managers last year because she wanted to gain a foothold in the recruiting field and help other military families find jobs in the lucrative tech sector.

Levy, who is Mexican American, agreed to start the 12-month gig in April after she checked with Meta that her position would be secure for the duration of the program despite the company’s financial challenges. She was told that the program, which aimed to improve the pipeline of recruiters who focus on diversity, was fully funded for the year.

About six months later, Meta laid off Levy and most of the other participants in her program, along with 13 percent of its full-time workers, amid falling revenue growth from a sluggish economy and more competition in the social media market.

“What they did to this program, I would never ever recommend anyone sign up for a diversity program with Meta,” Levy said. “Basically, [Meta] cut us off at the knees.”

Levy’s experience illustrates the uphill battle Meta and other technology companies face as they trim their workforces while maintaining commitments to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities within their ranks.

The technology industry has long struggled to recruit a diverse workforce, but the recent spate of cuts by Silicon Valley companies has hit women particularly hard, according to recently published analyses of demographic data from the layoffs. Women and some minorities were particularly vulnerable to layoffs because they were newer to their jobs and occupied roles that companies were less interested in retaining, experts said.

Diversity “was never their strong suit,” said Benjamín Juárez, a co-founder of Latinos in Tech, a group that offers training in technical skills. “It’s likely not going to be during this downtime.”

Many of the biggest tech companies had grown the ranks of women and minorities during the pandemic with the lure of remote work, which had allowed the firms to recruit across a wider geographic area and hire people who otherwise would have preferred to remain at home.

But the layoffs threaten those gains. One analysis of data from tech layoff tracker found that women represented about 39 percent of the overall workforce but 46 percent of all layoffs since September, according to Reyhan Ayas, a senior economist at Revelio Labs, a company that analyzes trends in the labor market. Hispanic workers were also slightly more likely to be represented among the layoffs than they were in the workforce, according to Revelio data.

“Overall, definitely nontechnical roles are more affected, women are more affected,” Ayas said. “And [diversity, equity and inclusion] efforts in general have been hindered at least in some companies by the layoffs in the last year or so.”

One reason women and Hispanic workers may have been disproportionately targeted by the cuts is because companies used a “last in, first out” strategy to decide which jobs to keep and which to cut. The average length of service of a laid-off worker was just one year, which dwarfed the amount of time remaining employees had spent at the company, according to Revelio. Laid-off workers were more likely to work in positions that the tech companies were eager to cut, including recruiting and customer service positions, the data showed.

“When you have a shorter tenure, you don’t have that many friends and connections within the organization, so you tend to also be on the chopping block first,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, the dean of global business at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “The last-in-first-out has affected a wide swath of people, but because women and minorities were hired disproportionately in the last couple of years they have also been fired disproportionately.”

Meta is one company that used remote work during the pandemic to make gains in diversity. Between 2021 and 2022, the share of Black, Hispanic, multiracial and Asian employees in its U.S. workforce increased, while the White worker share dropped by 1.5 percentage points, according to Meta’s annual diversity report. Leaders at the company also became more diverse, with the share of women, Black and Hispanic managers increasing, according to the report.

Meta Chief Diversity Officer Maxine Williams said last year that candidates in the United States who accepted remote job offers were more likely to come from underrepresented racial groups; globally, they were more likely to be women.

Between 2021 and 2022, the share of women in Meta’s workforce grew slightly from 36.7 percent to 37.1 percent, according to Meta’s report.

Chakravorti added that remote workers may also have been particularly vulnerable to cuts because they were given less-critical assignments and had less face time with their managers compared with workers who were going into the office.

“As people started coming back into the offices, there was sort of a two-tiered citizenship within a particular company” between people who worked completely remotely and those who went into the office at times, he said.

The easing of pandemic-era safety restrictions hit Meta at a time when its core business model was experiencing other severe threats. The social media giant has been competing for both users and advertising dollars from rival apps such as TikTok. Apple introduced new privacy restrictions that hurt the company’s ability to collect data on its users for the purposes of targeted advertising. Meanwhile, marketers have been pulling back on advertising spending because of uncertainty in the global economy.

Over the summer, Meta executives issued a dizzying number of directives, outlining a new era of higher performance expectations, and slowed hiring as the company emerged from the pandemic with a growing list of economic challenges. Managers were asked to identify their low performers, which prompted a wave of anxiety and resentment among Facebook’s workforce.

Meta’s treatment of minority workers was already facing scrutiny. In 2020, an African American manager and two job applicants who were rejected by Facebook filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that the company is biased against Black employees in evaluations, promotions, pay and hiring practices. The case is ongoing.

“It’s not the case that they were only laying off people who were low performers,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer who represents the complainants in the case. “To the extent that the company was laying someone off because they were a lower performer, I think it’s very clear that that is problematic because Meta’s evaluation system is riddled with discriminatory problems.”

In November, Lori Goler, Meta’s human resources chief, told remaining employees after the layoffs that the company didn’t explicitly take diversity into consideration when it decided which positions to cut, according to a recording of the meeting listened to by The Washington Post.

“The way we thought about DEI,” Golder said, using an acronym for diversity, equity and inclusion, “was the same way that we think about it in all our people processes, which is the less discretion and the more objectivity you have in any of your people processes, the better it’s going to be for DEI.” The recruiting team was hit particularly hard, she said.

One of the strategies the company used, she said during the call, was “this sort of idea of last in, first to move out. And that’s the way that you get to more objective criteria. And there were several ways that we did that across the org as we tried to move forward with the plans and the layoffs.”

Goler also said roughly 46 percent of the layoffs came from the technology teams, while 54 percent came from the business side of the company. At Meta, women and people of color are more likely to hold roles on the business side of the company than they are to be in engineering roles.

As Meta’s financial situation worsened and the company began slowing down and then freezing hiring, Levy said there was far less for her and her colleagues to do. So at times, she spent many of her days reaching out to other Meta employees to learn more about the company and their career paths.

Two months after the cuts, Levy said she is still having trouble finding a job in recruiting or any other field. So far, she said, she has applied to hundreds of jobs but only secured a few interviews.

“I’m applying for everything,” Levy said. “It’s been tough.”



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