While Facebook attempts to embrace diversity by training employees about bias and encouraging recruiters to look at more diverse candidates, it's also stepped up efforts to introduce young students from underrepresented communities to tech-related careers through internships and summer camps.
(TNS) -- St. Ignatius College Preparatory high school student Henry Davis knows that African-Americans are a minority at Facebook and other tech firms but it's a reality he's learned to accept.
"It gets to me but it also makes me more motivated to be here," he said.
On Friday, Davis was among more than 200 black students from Bay Area high schools who were at the campus touring the office space and learning from African-American Facebook employees about their journey to the social media company. Some employees worked as attorneys, product managers or in marketing.
It was an eye-opening experience for the students, who realized there's more to a social media company than people who code at computers.
"I would have never considered this would be an option for me," said Davis, who wants to pursue a career in journalism or business. "Keeping your options open at all times is a very important thing."
Silicon Valley tech firms, including Facebook and Twitter, have struggled to diversify their workforces, which are mostly made up of white and Asian men. The lack of diversity has attracted the attention of advocacy groups and civil rights activists including the Rev. Jesse Jackson,who heads the Rainbow Push Coalition, a nonprofit that has called on these companies to release diversity data and do more.
"It just requires more commitment to recruit, train and retain," Jackson said in an interview.
Only about 2 percent of Facebook's U.S. workforce is black and an even smaller percentage work in tech jobs at the company, data from 2015 show.
The importance of diversity at tech companies garnered more attention Thursday after a leaked internal Facebook memo showed that employees were being reprimanded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg for defacing a "Black Lives Matter" slogan on a wall at the headquarters.
While Facebook has tackled the diversity issue by training employees about bias and encouraging recruiters to look at more diverse candidates, it's also stepped up efforts to introduce young students from underrepresented communities to tech-related careers through internships and summer camps. In 2013-14, black students made up about 9 percent of science, technology, engineering or math degrees or certificates awarded to U.S. citizens, a number that has remained relatively the same since 2008-09, data from the National Center for Education Statistics show.
Internships and scholarships can encourage students to pursue certain careers, but education programs require more than one day to make an impact, Jackson said.
"Certain students have the aptitude for those areas, but often don't have the opportunities in those areas," he said. "I think Facebook has done a good thing in opening up the conversation."
Organized by a black employee resource group, the theme of the Black History Month student event at Facebook was about creating new possibilities.
Facebook's community engagement manager, Aaron Moses, who is also one of the few black employees at the social media company, said the goal was to teach students about the opportunities in the tech field but also other jobs, too. The path to a career at Facebook might be daunting to some students, but hopefully by hearing the life stories of the company's employees, they'll learn more about how to get there.
"We're hoping that students will pick up tips along the way and be able to see themselves in these stories and walk away with objectives to get them where they want to be in the future," he said.
As the first person to graduate from college in his family, it's an opportunity that Moses wishes he had when he was young.
"I have no regrets as far as the journey I took, but having these opportunities available for everyone, no matter the background or culture, I think is extremely important," he said.
When asked by students about being a minority at Facebook, Bangaly Kaba, a product manager on Instagram's growth team and a former teacher, offered students some advice.
"From every step forward in your life from here on out, you will be one of few people of color in every situation," he said. "The quicker you believe that and you understand that to be true -- but don't think that's a barrier to success -- the better off you will be. That means thinking about what college you're going to."
©2016 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.