Facebook’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Shares How the Tech Giant is Empowering Black Communities Amid COVID-19

Facebook’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Shares How the Tech Giant is Empowering Black Communities Amid COVID-19

The global COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy, brought the entire nation to a standstill, and put 26 million Americans out of work in a matter of weeks. In the midst of social distancing and the struggle to navigate the unprecedented crisis, Facebook is one of several corporate giants stepping up to help hold the country together.

Supporting Communities in Need

In March, Facebook revealed a global $100 million cash grant and ad credit initiative to keep businesses afloat as well as a $100 million investment in news outlets around the world. However, understanding the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus is having on the African Americans, the tech giant is making an effort to support black communities across the nation.

On Wednesday, Facebook announced a $1 million donation to the BET COVID-19 Relief Fund, an initiative between BET Networks and United Way that distributes grants to local organizations serving African Americans in each of the region’s most heavily affected areas: New Orleans, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles.

“What we do as a business is deeply connected to the people who we support. And when you see people suffering, and you know you can [do something], you do,” Maxine Williams, global chief diversity officer at Facebook, told BLACK ENTERPRISE. After the coronavirus evolved into a global pandemic, she says Facebook shifted its focus to help people stay connected and deliver much-needed support to businesses and individuals in need. “Once this crisis hit, this became our number one priority.”

Within Facebook’s overall U.S. small business grant investment, the company earmarked 50% of grants to minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses due to the disproportionate impact COVID-19 will have on these companies, their employees, and the communities that they serve. As a result, Facebook will give approximately $20 million in grants to an estimated 5,000 eligible minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses in the U.S.

Facebook also partnered with BET News to air the primetime news special BET News and Facebook Present: COVID-19: Black America’s Fight last week, which addressed the disparate effects of COVID-19 on the African American community. The hour-long special also provided a wealth of information on how viewers can protect themselves and their families against contracting and spreading the novel virus.

“That partnership is a really important partnership to us because we want people to have the right information to be able to do the best that they can do in this situation,” Williams said. “It was really important to get practical, useful information from sources that they trust from people who look like them. We had all of these experts–whether they were health or economic experts–who were people of color.”

Using Data for Good

Recent reports reveal that COVID-19 is infecting and killing African Americans at disproportionately high rates due to existing racial disparities in resources, health and wellness, and access to medical care.  As a result, Facebook is leveraging its data mine as a weapon in the battle against coronavirus. One way is through its Data for Good initiative, a collection of tools that aggregate data for disaster response, health, connectivity, energy access, and economic growth. Facebook also launched the COVID-19 information center and surveys for those who are sick. “Using the data for good is critically important,” said Williams.

In addition, Williams says Facebook shares data with partner universities and researchers who aggregate it to build “heat maps” that give health officials insight into potential coronavirus hotbeds and infection clusters. “If we can get the hospitals to prepare for incoming [surges] ahead of time, that can save lives.”

Helping Their Own

Another way that Facebook is empowering black and brown people is by providing support for their own employees of color in light of the pandemic. For one, Williams says Facebook was cognizant that not all of its employees had the same level of comfort in order to work efficiently work from home, whether that’s access to high-speed internet, adequate workspace, or dealing with home responsibilities. That is why the company offered its employees a stipend to help them transition into working remotely.

“D&I is built into everything we’re doing,” said Williams. “We’re very cognizant of the fact that our black and brown people will probably have–certainly in America–the most grief, the most funerals, the most support that they have to give both for themselves and for others. And that is something that we took very seriously as we thought about how we operate in this new space.”

Williams added that Facebook temporarily suspended its performance reports and offered employees extended leave options. Plus, Facebook leaders routinely check in with managers to make sure that they’re supporting the people who report to them. “We’re trying our best right now to recognize the personal toll COVID-19 is taking on everybody,” she said. “We’re giving everybody the opportunity to thrive. That’s what inclusion is–it is opportunity with dignity.”

Watch Maxine Williams’ interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE below.