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Facebook Austin tackles lack of diversity in tech industry

As a whole, the tech companies may be booming but they struggle when it comes to diversity. Facebook in Austin is working to fix that.

AUSTIN, Texas — In the hallways and on the stairwells of a major tech company, you see photos of African-American employees with their heroes, from Serena Williams to Barack Obama. This is all intentional.

“The second you walked in on Feb. 1 you knew it was Black History Month,” said Mefah Joyner.

Joyner works at Facebook in Austin and said the company started the portrait series to spark conversation on an important issue – diversity.

“We want to make sure employees are being seen [and] are being felt and heard,” said Joyner.

Numbers show that in 2018, just one percent of Facebook employees in technical roles were black, and only three percent were Hispanic. Numbers like these are seen in tech companies nationwide and it's more than just a recruitment problem.

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“Companies know that they need to recruit, what they don't know is that they have to maintain that hire and that talent,” said Tam Hawkins with the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. "Once they recruit them, they have a two-year tenure rate before they’ve gone on to a different market."

That's an issue Facebook said it is trying to tackle. 

Facebook has made "Say Her Name – the Life and Death of Sandra Bland" a part of its commitment to black history month. Bland is the young woman who died in jail in Texas after being arrested following a routine traffic stop.

“We can't opt out of the oppression of others, and I believe Sandy’s story amplifies that more than anyone,” said Sharon Cooper, Sandra Bland’s sister.

Cooper also works at Facebook. She said having opportunities to share stories like her sister's is what she appreciates about the company and hopes others will follow suit.

“I think every company has a responsibility to make sure that their workforce is reflective of the user base that they support and also the world in which we live in," said Cooper. "And that’s why it’s so important to us not only to have these types of events in the community but to make sure that we’re also raising a level of awareness.”

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