The Q&A: Empowering Women at Facebook

From L to R: Elisabeth Michaels, Sun Yen Cumby, Jocelyn Chen, and Ruth Bram

From L to R: Elisabeth Michaels, Sun Yen Cumby, Jocelyn Chen, and Ruth Bram

From L to R: Elisabeth Michaels, Strategy & Operations Manager; Sun Yen Cumby, Supply Chain Manager; Jocelyn Chen, Strategic Sourcing Manager, Contract Manufacturing; and Ruth Bram, Game Producer. Not pictured: Michelle Tanaka, Technical Program Manager.


Q: You are part of a volunteer group dedicated to empowering women at Facebook. Please tell us about that.

We joined the Women of AR/VR steering committee for various reasons, but the overarching theme was to be part of a group of women empowering other women. We wanted to do our part in building and developing a diverse and inclusive environment within the AR/VR organization at Facebook.

The steering committee was established in 2018. We’re one of several different groups within AR/VR focused on diversity and inclusion, and our goal and mission is to create programming and events that aim to empower, enrich, and enable an inclusive community through professional development, community outreach, and peer support.

As part of the professional development and peer support programming, we develop events, workshops, seminars, and speaker series on topics such as:

  • Negotiation 101 for women
  • Building authentic relationships and allies
  • Monthly sushi lunches
  • Mentoring and coaching programs designed specifically for women, and more!

As part of the community outreach programming, we developed an Education and Philanthropic Subcommittee. On the philanthropic front, each year we build between 500 to 1,000 feminine hygiene kits that include tampons, pads, baby wipes, underwear, and travel sized toiletries that are donated to local women-based nonprofits and homeless and domestic violence shelters in the Bay Area, Seattle, and Redmond.

On the education front, we host students from the Bay Area at our Menlo Park campus for a full day of tech talks, product and game design workshops, career panels, and hackathons. Our objective is to develop curriculum and programming to help students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds gain better insights into various tech and non-tech careers while also hearing about personal career journeys from employees that include not only achievements and successes but also the trials and tribulations faced along the way. We want the students to walk away feeling inspired and empowered that they can achieve anything with hard work, dedication, perseverance, and resilience.


Q: Why is it important to bring more girls, people of color and under-resourced students into tech? 

Simply put, it takes diverse teams to build and design products for diverse audiences.

While designing our headsets, we’ve done extensive research on how the products fit people of different head sizes and hair styles (such as ponytails), to ensure our head-straps were flexible to fit a wide variety of people. We also have different options for facial interfaces and adjustable straps to accommodate different face and head sizes. Our new controller-free hand tracking technology has been tested to work for people of different hand sizes. As we continue to evolve our products, we’ve also evolved our approach to accessibility. For example, we’ve added adjustability for prescription lenses and an open ear design.

On the content side, many games on our platform offer players a wide range of options to customize their player character from gender to skin color, body type, and clothing. Our content also offers a wide range of in-game VR comfort options like different locomotion types (teleport vs free), speed movement from slow to fast, and rotation type from snap to smooth to provide the most immersive experience in VR and allow people to choose what’s comfortable for them.

Without diverse teams contributing varied ideas and experiences, we wouldn’t be able to design hardware and content for a large, diverse audience. At Facebook, creating products and services for accessibility and ease of use helps us to achieve our mission of bringing the world closer together. In order to do this, we must build our products and services with inclusion in mind.

Our goal on the Education Committee is to help increase diversity and inclusion by starting early and reaching out to students in diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and giving them a glimpse into different career options in tech by sharing relatable educational and career journeys from employees that embody how hard work, dedication, perseverance, and resilience in education can take them far in life.

Q: Can you share an example of one of the programs you have developed that brings students to the Facebook campus—and what impact you have seen it have on them? 

Since 2018, we’ve had seven events, of which six were hosted on-site at our Menlo Park campus. We collaborate with local Bay Area schools, nonprofits, and community organizations to develop inspiring programs and curriculum for students to learn more about different career paths, how product and content are developed, and how to identify, report, and combat cyberbullying on our platforms.

Our largest event was an all-girls high school hackathon that was in partnership with a local high school Girls Who Code club. The hackathon was a 14 ½ hour event for girls with coding experience that ranged from very little to advanced. Participants also had the option of attending iOS and web development workshops and a “Women in Tech” panel. For some of the girls, this was the first time they were introduced to coding. By the end of the event, they were creating websites and apps that ranged from donating to causes like deforestation, finding solutions to recycling and other environmental problems, and games like environmental jeopardy to more serious topics like suicide prevention, eating disorders, combating loneliness, and mood trackers that also recognized the importance of parental impact on a child’s mood and mental health.

The participants left energized after the event, and the excitement and enthusiasm in the air was exhilarating. The judges, panelists, and volunteers were in awe of the final projects, presentation skills, collaborative spirit, and the enthusiasm and camaraderie they witnessed during the hackathon. The girls walked away from the event with basic foundational skills on coding, but the larger and greater impact is the glimpse they got into a new world that may have seemed intimidating and/or foreign to them previously but has now become more “accessible’ and “attainable”.

The biggest goal and objective of the education events is to help plant a seed of knowledge that will grow and thrive forever. We want to give the participants a glimpse into something they may not have known or seen previously to generate curiosity and spark an interest that they can continue to nourish and explore further on their own.

Q: You do this work as volunteers. Why do you, and what have you learned from doing it?  

The AR/VR Education Committee was a grassroots passion project that stems from the committee members unique background and experiences.

At the end of the day, education has played an instrumental role in our lives. Sun was a refugee who was the first person in her family to attend college and graduate school. Ruth took her guitar on the road to help motivate at-risk students to stay in school. Elisabeth’s mother was an educator. Jocelyn is a transplant from Taiwan and has witnessed firsthand the critical role education plays by seeing the difference in school systems between the US and Taiwan. Both of Michelle’s parents had occupations in the education system, and she was fortunate enough to be instilled with the importance of education.

To learn more about our individual background and experience, please check out the article Facebook career published about the education committee.

Our backgrounds and experience taught us the important role education can play in a person’s life, and we wanted to pay it forward. Sometimes, it’s hard to see what you don’t know, haven’t seen, or are unaware of. Providing real life experiences and stories that resonate with the students will hopefully help to demystify and break down barriers and obstacles they may have about certain career tracks in tech. Ultimately, we want to instill upon the students the idea that hard work and perseverance in education can and will take them far in their life and careers.


Sponsored by
Oculus AR\VR Facebook


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