Slack’s Unique Diversity Strategy Offers Some Lessons for Silicon Valley and Beyond

Slack’s Unique Diversity Strategy Offers Some Lessons for Silicon Valley and Beyond

The workplace communication and collaboration software startup Slack has garnered attention within the tech sector for its all-in approach to diversity and inclusion, issuing diversity reports at a faster pace and with more detail than their big-company competitors and making a point of giving its D&I commitment lots of visibility. Last month, Slack released its diversity report for 2017. The report touted a few victories, such as a 48 percent female management team and underrepresented minorities making up 12.8 percent of its technical staff, while also stressing the continued work it has to do.

In a profile of the company’s D&I program at the Atlantic on the occasion of that report, Jessica Nordell looked at several aspects of Slack’s approach to diversity that make it stand out from the crowd. One of these idiosyncrasies is that unlike many other tech companies, Slack doesn’t have a Chief Diversity Officer or other designated head of D&I:

While studies by the Harvard University professor Frank Dobbin, and colleagues, suggest having someone overseeing diversity efforts can increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in management, other measures, such as mentoring programs and transparency around what it takes to be promoted, are also important; a diversity chief alone may not be enough to make much of a difference. At Slack, the absence of a single diversity leader seems to signal that diversity and inclusion aren’t standalone missions, to be shunted off to a designated specialist, but are rather intertwined with the company’s overall strategy. As the CEO, Stewart Butterfield, has said, he wants these efforts to be something “everyone is engaged in.” Indeed, as the research by Dobbin and colleagues shows, involving employees in diversity policies leads to greater results.

The first lesson here is not “don’t have an appointed head of D&I,” but rather that there’s no one right way to structurally advance D&I. The Dobbin study makes sense because the D&I chief position ensures there’s always a voice in the room, but if any organization thinks they’ve solved D&I by creating a head of D&I role, they are sorely mistaken. In our work at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen organizations make progress with a large, singularly focused D&I function, or with a small but connected D&I function; with D&I reporting to HR, to the CEO, to the General Counsel, or to the Corporate Social Responsibility function.

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No, It’s Not Women’s Responsibility to Solve Sexism in the Workplace

No, It’s Not Women’s Responsibility to Solve Sexism in the Workplace

Last week, venture capitalist John Greathouse kicked up a maelstrom of outrage with an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal, in which he advised professional women to conceal their gender when applying for jobs or venture capital funding. Pointing to the oft-cited example of the orchestra that improved its gender diversity with blind auditions, he suggested that women candidates take responsibility for defeating the unconscious biases of the people (usually men) reviewing their applications:

In a similar fashion, women in today’s tech world should create an online presence that obscures their gender. A gender-neutral persona allows women to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them. Once they make an initial connection with a potential employer or investor, such women then have an opportunity to submit their work and experiences for an impartial review. …

I would suggest that if you are a woman raising capital, you might consider not including photos of your team in your pitch deck. If you identify your team via their initials (men and women), you effectively strip out all preconceptions related to race, ethnicity and gender. In your LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, email address and online correspondence use your initials (or a unisex name) and eliminate photos. I am not suggesting that people shun their ethnicity and run from their cultural identities. My point is that many people in the business community are intellectually dishonest. They say that they believe in diversity of thought, but their pattern matching habits cause them to prematurely narrow their aperture before giving certain entrepreneurs a chance to prove themselves.

Needless to say, this argument didn’t go over very well. Vox’s Sarah Kliff sums up why Greathouse’s approach to the problem is not only wrong but also naïve, not to mention insulting to women:

Greathouse’s piece is infuriating because it accepts gender bias as an unfixable part of Silicon Valley that women ought to work around instead of demanding that those who do any actual hiring or decision-making, you know, actually take steps to fix it.

His argument represents a naive view of gender bias in the workplace. Greathouse suggests women should obscure their gender to get their foot in the door. Once they’ve wedged that door open, all opportunities will suddenly become available.

But that isn’t true: The best evidence we have suggests that gender bias only gets worse after women land those entry-level opportunities. So asking women to obscure their gender in the application process isn’t only a bad idea — it’s a bad idea that’s unlikely to reduce gender bias.

Greathouse also appears to misunderstand how the blind audition process he refers to actually works. Julia Carrie Wong elaborates on that critique at the Guardian:

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How Samantha Bee Brought Diversity to Her Writers’ Room

How Samantha Bee Brought Diversity to Her Writers’ Room

When her hit show Full Frontal premiered in February, Samantha Bee became the first woman host in the pantheon of late-night comedy, so it’s no surprise that she’s committed to breaking down barriers in her industry. Alex Morris’s recent interview with the former Daily Show star in Rolling Stone touches on the diversity of her writers’ room, which Bee achieved through a blind hiring process:

“We didn’t know what the show would look like,” says Bee, “but we knew what it would feel like. We wanted a show that was visceral, that came from a really gut place, that tapped into our fury.” That required hiring people who had fury to spare, beginning with showrunner Jo Miller, who’d worked with Bee as a writer for The Daily Show. “Jon [Stewart] loved Jo and believed in her for sure, but I don’t know how imminently anyone was ready to offer her up her own show,” Bee says. “I don’t know that any television network would say, ‘Hey, obscure woman. I’m going to pull you out of here and give you your own ship to sail.’ I don’t know what enabled me to see that, but step one was hiring Jo Miller.”

Bee took the same approach to hiring writers, creating a blind application process that didn’t favor people who’d already had success. (It spelled out, for example, how scripts should look when submitted, leveling the playing field for the uninitiated.) Lo and behold, she ended up with a writers’ room that looked kind of like America: 50 percent female; 30 percent nonwhite. One of her hires had been working at the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles. “We don’t feel like we solved the diversity problem. We didn’t fix racism, quite,” Bee jokes. “I mean, we almost did. We’ll see how things pan out. I’m feeling really good about it.” Anyway, the strategy worked. “I have literally filled my office with people who have been underestimated their entire careers. To a person, we almost all fit into that category.”

Things seem to be panning out just fine so far creatively—her writing team just picked up an Emmy nomination:

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The Bias of Hiring From Within One’s Academic Strata

The Bias of Hiring From Within One’s Academic Strata

Writing at SourceCon, Paul Wolfe, SVP of human resources at Indeed, highlights one finding from a recent survey by the job search site that looked at the value of a degree from an elite college:

In another example of workplace bias, managers who graduated from top-ranked colleges prefer to hire graduates from similar schools, according to a new survey from Indeed, the world’s number one job site. Thirty-seven percent of managers who self-identified coming from a top school said they like to hire candidates from top institutions only, versus just 6% of managers who did not go to a top school.

Conversely, 41% of managers who did not graduate from a top college find experience more important than the degree, versus just 11% of managers who said they went to a top school.

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New Recruiting Platforms Take Aim at Hiring Bias

New Recruiting Platforms Take Aim at Hiring Bias

We’ve previously touched on whether it is possible to eliminate unconscious bias from in-person job interviews and whether the answer to that question lies in giving interviews more structure or conducting them through some kind of virtual interface that conceals a candidate’s appearance, voice, or other identifiers that could trigger a hiring manager’s unconscious biases. Well, at Fast Company recently, Lydia Dishman took a look at a platform currently in development that promises to turn the dream of real-time anonymous interviews into a (virtual) reality:

Interviewing.io started as a platform that would allow tech professionals to take on a coding challenge with an interviewer, as if they were working on a virtual whiteboard. The interviewee’s name and other identifying information was taken out. At first, [cofounder Aline] Lerner says, everyone was given superhero names, but that quickly became problematic. “Not only would we have run into copyright issues,” she explains, “But most end in ‘man’, and that’s not what we are trying to do.”

Gender neutral animal names are now given to both the interviewer and the interviewee. And while the two can exchange comments via the interactive text feature on the platform, there is also an option to chat using a voice feature. Here’s where it gets interesting.

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