Slack’s No Slacker on Diversity and Inclusion

Slack’s No Slacker on Diversity and Inclusion

One day after tech giant Intel released its annual report on diversity and inclusion, the fast-growing startup Slack has put out its second set of diversity statistics in less than six months, the Guardian’s Jana Kasperkevic reports:

Black engineers make up 8.9% of Slack’s US engineering staff, according to a new diversity report released by the company on Thursday. The report has been issued just five months after Slack released its initial diversity figures. According to the new report, globally, more than 7.8% of its engineers identify as black, compared to just under 7% in September. The most recent data collection allowed Slack to break down its diversity numbers into global and US employees, whereas the first set of data focused on the company as a whole. In September the percentage of African American employees across all departments was 4%; today this percentage, globally, is down to 3.4%, while US figures are up to 4.4%.

Compared to other Silicon Valley companies Slack – a team collaboration and communication platform – seems to be making some progress on increasing diversity within the company. Yet it is important to put these numbers into perspective. At the moment, the company employs more than 350 people. In December, when the most recent survey was conducted, they employed about 290 employees. This means hiring just three employees who identify as black or who are women could have significantly improved their diversity figures.

Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman highlights the startup’s self-awareness about needing to make both its culture and its recruitment procedures more inclusive:

Slack has made more subtle moves to be inclusive, most recently unveiling a new way for developers to connect to the network that used a brown hand in the graphic, which was met with praise both within and outside the company. Despite that, Slack reports that there are still no leadership positions in engineering, product, or design held by underrepresented minorities. “This is a glaring omission for a company where 13% of the global engineering organization reports as underrepresented minorities,” according to the post.

To take a more proactive stance and change those numbers, Slack is planning to implement the Rooney Rule for recruiting senior-level leadership. Named for Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers who headed up the NFL’s diversity committee, the rule stipulated that teams interview at least one minority candidate for every head coach and general manager vacancy.

Rather than treat racial diversity and gender equality as separate issues, Fortune writer Valentina Zarya notes that Slack’s report considers them together, illustrating an increasing awareness of intersectionality:

“Often not reported among tech companies is the intersection of race and gender,” the report states. “Looking at women within underrepresented people of color (Native, African American/Black, Hispanic/Latina (also frequently referred to as underrepresented minorities or “URMs”) we found that 9% of our engineering organization in the U.S. report in these categories.” And the majority of black engineers are female, adds Anne Toth, the vice president of people and policy at Slack.

Looking at the intersection of race and gender—or “intersectionality,” as it’s frequently called—is not a new idea. The term has been floating around in the academic world for the past half-century, though it is just now starting to crop up in corporate diversity conversations. The basic premise of intersectionality is that the overlapping of different identities—including gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and disability—is what shapes our social experiences. Yet when most companies talk about diversity, they separate gender from race and, more often than not, leave sexual orientation and disability out of the conversation altogether.

Slack’s very deliberate choice to focus on diversity and inclusion while it’s still young and scrappy will likely pay dividends as it grows, Davey Alba remarks at Wired:

Most of all, the data shows that, like the rest of tech, Slack is still overwhelmingly white or Asian and male. It could do better by putting people of color into leadership positions and retaining female managers at the company. But Slack at least is conscious of the fact that it should work hard now to achieve shifts in its diversity while the company is still small and growing fast. “Not a lot of small, private companies are reporting this data—and most larger, established companies report on this once a year,” Anne Toth … told WIRED. “But we thought it was useful to do that in light of our rapid growth. We wanted to tackle this issue at an earlier stage in our development as a company.”

At the Atlantic, meanwhile, Adrienne LaFrance applauds the company for not waiting a year to put out a new report:

But in releasing new data again so soon, Slack has also set the bar higher for publicly following up on promises of improvement, and acknowledged the reality of what solving this problem actually looks like. Success is not guaranteed. And diversity doesn’t just happen because you say you want it to. “So we are going to keep talking about it,” Slack said. “Of course, talk is not enough.” This is a mentality more companies should emulate. Because the representation of minority groups in the workplace is not an annual issue for the people who are a part of those groups. It’s a daily one.