Q&A with Sara Sperling, Facebook’s Head of Diversity

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As Head of Diversity with Facebook, Sara Sperling plays a major role in the shaping of the company. She’s in charge of Facebook’s efforts to become a more demographically diverse company and refers to herself more as a Dean of Students than a Facebook executive.

Sperling, who has been with Facebook for four years, recently spoke at the first Lesbians Who Tech summit, an event that helps build awareness of queer women in the tech industry and the opportunities that are available for them.

She took some time to sit down with Inside Facebook to examine how having such a diverse workforce has helped Facebook not only in the tech world, but as an internationally-renowned company.

Inside Facebook: Tell me a little bit about what Facebook was like, in terms of diversity, when you signed on here.

Sara Sperling: When I came on board, we were a little over 1,000 employees and we’re now over 6,000 — quite a big jump. For me, when I chose to come to Facebook, I was such an out lesbian. There was no hiding it with me. I needed to go work somewhere where I could be completely me. That was already there at Facebook. They were like, “We love you! We love that you have tattoos. We love that you’re a mom. We love all of that!” So diversity was already important to Facebook. It was just because we were a small company that we weren’t necessarily focusing on it.

All of that base bone was always there, so it was nice to be able to build on that. I started not as diversity, but as learning & development. I had a passion for diversity. I helped revive one of the employee resource groups. From that, the company kept going to me and asking me questions about diversity and I’d answer it. At some point, one of the leaders, the head of HR, saw something in me. … I think that’s really freaking cool that executives of the company would say, “We see something in you,” and trust you enough to build it.

IF: Before you came to Facebook, what were you doing?

SS: I was doing learning & development at Yahoo. Right before that, I was in academia. I was teaching at Berkeley and Santa Clara and I was doing student affairs. Funny enough, I always wanted to be the Dean of Students at a university. So now, I have literally met my goal. I was totally academic, and made that transition from academic to corporate. It was hard, though.

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IF: One of the things that has always impressed me about Facebook is the company is very, very dedicated to diversity. They’re finding new employees from groups who are underrepresented in the tech world. Can you tell me how Facebook goes about finding talent from other underrepresented groups?

SS: We’re very similar to most of the tech companies. We want diverse teams. The research shows that diverse teams are going to build better products. We don’t have a simple product — we have a complex product. Because of that, we need diverse perspectives and diverse journeys and what that equals is people of different ethnicities and different paths. That’s what we like.

Our consumer base, the people who use Facebook, is the world. So we need to look as close to that as we possibly can. We still have all the challenges that all the other tech companies have, finding people who are from diverse perspectives and diverse paths. But we’re very committed to that and we have a team that’s committed to that. Our employees are committed to this — it’s not just executives or recruiting, our employees are too.