Former Facebook engineer says women face more scrutiny there

When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote “Lean In,” it launched a national movement around women’s leadership and what it takes to break glass ceilings. But according to a Tuesday report from the Wall Street Journal, Facebook itself is facing allegations that the work of female engineers isn’t getting a fair shake at the company.

Analyzing five years of Facebook’s open code-review data, an unnamed female engineer found that female engineers got their code rejected 35% more than their male peers.

According to a screenshot of her internal post that the Journal obtained, she said she did this “so that we can have an insight into how the review process impacts people in various groups.”

Checking performance, or undermining work?

At Facebook, code needs to be reviewed by peers before it gets accepted. Women appear to wait longer and get inspected more closely.

In this engineer’s report, she said that women had to wait 3.9% longer than men to get their code accepted and faced 8.2% more questions about their code than their male counterparts.

This engineer’s post was made in September and she has since moved on from Facebook, but her analysis sparked internal debates among Facebook employees.

Facebook followed up with the engineer’s conclusion by conducting their own analysis. While the female engineer looked at an engineer’s tenure at Facebook, the official analysis looked at an engineer’s rank.

A question of rank for women engineers

This led Facebook’s head of infrastructure, Jay Parikh, to dispute gender being the main factor to code rejection. Although Parikh acknowledged that the gender review gap was “still observable and felt by many of you,” Parikh said an engineer’s rank was the main factor for the rejection rates. Some employees interpreted this to mean that the real gender gap problem was a pipeline issue.

There’s criticism for the methodology of both studies. The female engineer didn’t look at the previous jobs engineers might have held, while Facebook did not analyze the trend closely enough to rule out gender bias as a factor.

But it’s clear that the engineer’s conclusion of women facing more scrutiny than men resonated with many engineers.

Her analysis was brought up to CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an employee town hall. When asked about it, Zuckerberg acknowledged that gender bias was “an issue.”

But it’s unclear if he means it’s a Facebook issue, or a general issue that affects the entire tech industry.

Diverse teams make better decisions

Facebook has been called out for its lack of diversity before. Its Equal Employment Opportunity Filing for 2013 reported that there were no black people in executive or senior management roles.

In its latest diversity report, women represented 17% of technical roles. This matters because engineers at Facebook build the infrastructure that all of the features we the public see are built upon. Whatever life stories, biases, and perspectives they hold are embedded into the mainframe of the technology we use.

As Sandberg herself has said about diversity: “Endless data show that diverse teams make better decisions. We are building products that people with very diverse backgrounds use, and I think we all want our company makeup to reflect the makeup of the people who use our products. That’s not true of any industry really, and we have a long way to go.”