According to an internal message shared with the Guardian, Facebook's head of HR is telling employees that a public allegation of gender bias against female coders at the company is part of the reason that there aren't enough female coders at the company.
Facebook was grappling with a Wall Street Journal article that highlighted a former employee's analysis of code written by Facebook employees. The former Facebook engineer's findings alleged that the company is harsher on code written by female engineers than it is on their male counterparts, with their code rejected 35 percent more often than men's code.
Facebook disputes the finding, calling the data used to arrive at it "incomplete." Facebook's vice-president of engineering told engineers, who knew internally of the coder's allegations of bias, that he had run his own tests with confidential data, accounting for different levels of engineering, that found no difference in the way code by women and code by men was handled.
“Any meaningful discrepancy based on the complete data is clearly attributable not to gender but to seniority of the employee," a spokesperson said. "In fact, the discrepancy simply reaffirms a challenge we have previously highlighted — the current representation of senior female engineers both at Facebook and across the industry is nowhere near where it needs to be.”
Meanwhile, Facebook's HR head Lori Goler responded internally to the publicized allegations. She was "disappointed by many things related to this story, but mostly that there might be anyone who is not having the experience we would want everyone at Facebook to have," the Guardian, who viewed the message, reports.
“A key factor in our ability to recruit more women in engineering is our recruiting brand... Unfortunately, a story based on factually incorrect data that paints us in a negative light will almost certainly hurt our ability to attract more women, and it isn’t great for those of us working here, either. In other words, this moves us in the exact wrong direction.”
The Guardian points to a study done with open-source data last year in which female coders had their code approved more often than male coders, but only when gender wasn't identifiable. When it was, women's code was rejected more often than men's code.
Facebook's head of engineering has dismissed the idea of moving to a process where code is reviewed without the coder's identifying details. “As engineers, we might be tempted to build tools to deal with bias, but I don’t believe that this bias is easily addressed in mechanical ways,” he wrote to employees. “Hiding the identity of authors or reviewers is counterproductive from an engineering perspective. Instead we should learn to recognize cases where reactions are affected by bias and move to correct them.”