Mark Zuckerberg defends Peter Thiel's position on Facebook's board: It's "about diversity"


When news broke that Facebook board member Peter Thiel pledged $1.25 million to Donald Trump's campaign, the tech community responded with criticism of Silicon Valley's tacit acceptance of a powerful figure funding a campaign of racially charged hate and misogyny.

Then, of course, powerful men in tech rushed to defend their relationship with Thiel. On Monday, Y Combinator president Sam Altman said cutting ties with Thiel would be a "a dangerous path to start down." This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted an internal message to Facebook employees regarding Thiel's seat on the company's board.

"I want to quickly address the questions and concerns about Peter Thiel as a board member and Trump supporter," Zuckerberg wrote. "We can't create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half of the country because they back a political candidate. There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault. ... Our community will be stronger for all our differences." 

"Diversity." Hmm. Zuck's comment says a lot about what kind of diversity Facebook truly values. The company's board comprises six white men (one of whom, Jan Koum, is Ukrainian) and two white women. Thiel adds diversity to Facebook like alt-right trolls help free speech on Twitter.

The tech community's call to action is clear

Software developer, RailsBridge founder and Ruby Central director Sarah Mei criticized tech's defense of Thiel in a tweetstorm Tuesday. "Cut ties to folks who publicly and materially support misogyny and racism," Mei wrote. "Otherwise, we'll all self-select out."

Mei's tweetstorm was prompted by the news that Thiel, a gay libertarian who co-wrote a book against diversity initiatives on campus and who once criticized the 19th Amendment, would give a hefty amount to Trump's campaign. It never explicitly called out Thiel, Y Combinator or Facebook, but it points to the issue at hand: Men with demonstrated discriminatory values retaining powerful leadership positions in tech.

Men like Thiel undermine Silicon Valley's diversity initiatives, Mei told Mic. Individuals in underrepresented groups won't view the company as an inclusive environment, and they may be deterred from applying to work there. 

"The most dangerous thing about being associated with a person like Peter Thiel is the people who won't apply to your program," Mei said. "Who are the people who are going to self-select out?"

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What companies can do to show their commitment to diversity

Mei said it's important to signal in different ways that your company is committed to inclusion without people having to ask about it. She advises companies explain their diversity efforts directly on the "team page." 

"The team page is where you go to see who is running this place, who would I be working with and what do they look like," Mei said. "I have had several experiences where someone will point me at a company, and I'll go look at the team page and that's as far as I get, because the team page is a bunch of people who all look the same."

Mei said to get interested candidates to stop instinctively closing their browser tabs upon landing on a homogenous team photo, companies can be up-front about their efforts on that same landing page.

"You have an opportunity to be like, 'Hey, I know that this doesn't look good, but here's what we're doing about it,'" Mei said.

Representation in leadership matters

Mei said who is on your leadership page — regardless of how active or honorary their role at the company is — indicates your company's values.

It shows people, "these are the people whose philosophies matter to us," Mei said. 

So, is your leadership page predominantly white men? Have you recently decided to keep an individual with a history of fighting diversity and free speech on your board of directors? Tell us what you'll do to make sure individuals from underrepresented groups feel that the company's strongest voices care about their inclusion. Tell us the specific actionable efforts you're making. Add them to your team pages.