Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know that Facebook strives for diversity in its workforce -- and not just on the basis of race or gender. The CEO says he works hard to recruit people who attended a state school, are rooted to their local communities and come from traditional backgrounds.
"We certainly do," Zuckerberg said of his 40,000 mostly U.S.-based employees in an interview with the New York Post.
"There's a woman who runs our commerce product and is deeply religious," he said. "The person who runs policies of the company is quite a prominent Republican. So we have people from quite different views, which I think might be a little bit different from most of the other tech companies. That's something that I really focused on."
Big tech companies, sports entities, Hollywood and the media have all faced criticism in recent years for the lack of cultural diversity in their leadership roles. It's even a problem in the public sector. A whopping 40% of the 250 top American public sector decision-makers are Ivy League graduates, according to a National Journal survey. Only a quarter hold a graduate degree from a public university.
And boardroom members typically come from the elite ZIP codes of New York City, Washington, D.C., Silicon Valley and their surrounding areas. Zuckerberg himself is an example of the problem: He grew up in the wealthy Westchester town of Dobbs Ferry and went to Harvard before dropping out to focus on Facebook.
That lack of representation from people who grew up in rural areas or Rust Belt cities -- whose experiences include sitting in a pew on Sunday, getting a little dirt under their nails and owning a gun -- has widened the cultural divide and led to our current polarized political discourse.
Why? Because typically, the people who decide what ad you see or how your news is delivered or what behavior is acceptable on and off a sports field are unfamiliar with life in the part of America derisively nicknamed "flyover country."
Zuckerberg says he views Facebook as a series of small communities where the average Joe can speak out just as powerfully as a prominent politician.
"We need to make sure that we're giving more power to the equal," he said, "not just reinforcing existing institutions that exist in society.
"I think that's really important for where we are today, to not fall into a monoculture. Real progress has always been made by individuals having a voice and changing many individual steps forward to improve their lives and communities."
Zuckerberg was in Washington for a speech at Georgetown University that was livestreamed from his personal Facebook page. He will also testify next week before the House Financial Services Committee about his cryptocurrency project, Libra.
He said his speech -- in which he defined his peer group of high-tech companies as the "fifth estate," taking their place alongside traditional news media -- was one he had been thinking about for a very long time.
"I thought it was important to give a full articulation of my views on free expression. Giving people a voice is so important, and it has been throughout history," he said.
During our interview, the seemingly aloof Zuckerberg, 35, was candid in talking about how important his own Jewish faith is to him and relaxed and funny in reflecting on how things have changed since he launched "The Facebook" in his dorm room in 2004.
Zuckerberg has certainly taken his lumps. For years, he has been blasted from all sides for Facebook's business practices -- from making money on false ads to breaching the privacy of its users. Oftentimes, the Facebook CEO and his team have seemed locked in an ivory tower as they arrogantly battled these crises from on high.
With his speech and this interview, Zuckerberg is clearly trying to show his more human side, especially as he fights accusations from both sides of the political aisle. While Republicans insist that users and news with a more conservative bent have been censored on his platform, Democrats claim Facebook spreads political misinformation.
Recently, presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren took this to the next level, paying for a deliberately deceptive Facebook ad that read, in part, "Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for reelection." Her ad was a response to Trump's 2020 reelection campaign ads, which blasted Joe Biden and his son for corruption, charges they both deny. Zuckerberg has so far not removed any of the ads and has defended this policy.
"People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth," Zuckerberg told The Washington Post. "At the same time, I don't think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100% true."
Even in the face of a cancel culture and tribal political war, Zuckerberg believes that free speech is absolute, and he does not think private companies should censor politicians.
"The hardest threat to free expression comes from our culture itself," he told the New York Post. "Because democracy depends on people holding each other's right to express ourselves above our own desire to get our way in every debate that we have.
"And increasingly, it seems like a larger number of people are willing to put whatever political outcome they want above respecting other people's ability to express themselves and have a voice," he said.
"I think that that's really dangerous."
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between.