The San Mateo, California-based online polling company SurveyMonkey announced last week that it has been offering the independent contractors it employs a suite of “gold standard” medical, dental, and vision benefits, identical to those of its regular full-time employees, since January, Phil Albinus reports at Employee Benefit News:
Under the medical plan, 80% of claim costs are paid by its insurance carrier and the third-party employer pays 85% of employee premium and 50% of dependent premium. Contract and third-party employees are entitled to 80 hours of vacation and 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, including seven paid holidays, 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year and 12 weeks of paid medical leave per year. These workers can also receive a monthly subsidy of up to $260 for public transit expenses.
The divide between employees and contractors in Silicon Valley is vast: Whereas Facebook, for instance, reported a median employee salary of over $240,000 in its latest proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, that number does not include the army of contractors and subcontractors who provide security, custodial, catering, and other facilities management services for the social media giant. These contingent workers don’t enjoy anything resembling the plush benefits packages Facebook offers its full-time employees, and the impact of this inequality in the high-cost San Francisco Bay Area has drawn growing criticism toward the tech sector (Facebook is by no means unique in this regard).
In our age of HR as PR, benefits inequality has become an increasingly popular subject of scrutiny on the part of investors, the public, and the press. Starbucks expanded parental leave benefits for its hourly store employees earlier this year after activist investors began asking pointed questions about the disparity in leave benefits between hourly and salaried employees and whether this difference put the company at risk for claims of discrimination. Interestingly, in the case of SurveyMonkey, the impetus to equalize benefits for contractors came not from investors or the press, but rather from employees:
Blind, the anonymous workplace community app that bills itself as a “real-time Glassdoor” and has taken the tech sector by storm, is releasing a desktop version of its native mobile app this month, Joel Cheesman reported last week, citing an app update. The application, which claims hundreds of thousands of verified users including over 30,000 Microsoft employees and 16,000 at Amazon, allows users to chat, share information, and gossip anonymously with other people at their company, about their company.
Blind started out in South Korea in 2014 and came to Silicon Valley in 2015, where it has ignited a controversy over what anonymous forums mean for both employees and employers: Like Glassdoor, Blind is a place where employees can share information (not necessarily accurate) and express opinions (not necessarily positive) without what they say getting back to their employer, but also without that employer having much opportunity to present their side of the story. It has also raised questions about data privacy and security, though Blind assures users that it takes pains to encrypt and discard user data, so that nothing they write there can ever be traced back to them through digital fingerprints, and so that no personal data will be exposed in the event of a breach.
In any case, with the desktop move, Cheesman predicts Blind “will certainly introduce the app to a lot of people who hadn’t heard of it before.” That’s obviously the idea, anyway, as a fast-growing company like Blind naturally wants to expand its user base. Cheesman is skeptical, however, that Blind’s anonymous forum will survive:
The Ascend Foundation, a non-profit Pan-Asian career lifecycle organization, published a report this week on racial inequality in the US tech sector. Analyzing EEO-1 data for 2015-2017 from hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area tech companies, the study concluded that “diversity in technology leadership roles has generally stagnated over the last decade,” while race is “an increasingly more significant impediment than gender to climbing the management ladder, with Asian women and Hispanic women most affected.” Other key findings include:
- Asians are the least likely to be promoted to managerial or executive positions, in spite of being the largest minority group of professionals and the most likely to be hired. In particular, Asian women are the least represented group as executives, at 66% underrepresentation.
- White men and women are twice as likely as Asians to become executives and hold almost three times the number of executive jobs.
- Even though white women are now substantially more successful in reaching the executive level than ALL minority men or women, white men are still 47% more likely than white women to be executives.
- Both Blacks and Hispanics have declined in their percentage share of the professional workforce despite efforts to hire more underrepresented minorities.
“When we used the Executive Parity Index to compare the numbers of minorities as executives to their numbers in the workforce, it was clear that that efforts to promote more Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics have made no meaningful impact to the minority glass ceiling,” said Buck Gee, a former vice president and general manager at Cisco Systems who is an Ascend executive advisor and a study co-author. “That said, we saw progress made by white women, so we know tech companies can change. Now it’s time to do the same for minority men and women.”
This report represents a major contribution to the literature on racial diversity and discrimination in the tech sector, particularly in dismantling the myth that Asian-Americans are unaffected by bias or even unfairly advantaged. What Ascend found was that while Asian employees are not overtly discriminated against in policies or practices, they observed “a pattern of cultural traits among some Asians that did not align with leadership expectations in Western corporate culture, such as risk-taking and being confrontational,” Gee tells Wired’s Nitasha Tiku:
The changes to US immigration policy, particularly the H-1B visa program for highly-skilled foreign workers, proposed by President Donald Trump have made many US employers who depend on access to a global talent market wary of potential changes to come, and is leading them to prepare for a possible future in which foreign talent is harder to hire. The tech sector is particularly reliant on global talent, and a data report released last week by the online recruiting platform Hired shows that Silicon Valley has significantly reduced its international hiring since Trump took office in January:
Our research revealed a 60% decrease in requests from US-based companies to foreign workers from Q2 to Q4 2016, which was likely the result of uncertainty around immigration policies generated by the election. This uncertainty abated to some extent post-election, but in Q2 2017, US interest in foreign workers was still down 37% year over year.
Hired also found, however, that nearly half of tech sector workers believe the H-1B program is flawed, particularly non-US citizens who are most familiar with the way it works:
Though the findings illustrate the issue’s complexity and underscore the need for reform, the exact nature of this reform remains nebulous. President Trump has advocated for prioritization of foreign workers who hold advanced degrees, which was echoed by the respondents in our survey. In fact, respondents indicated that this was their number one suggestion for fixing the program, followed by increasing the number of H1-B visas issued, overhauling the lottery in favor of an auction or other system of allotment, and increasing the minimum salary.
Another interesting finding from Hired’s survey is that 60 percent of respondents expect the Trump administration to have a negative impact on the tech industry, and 40 percent have considered relocating to another country since last year’s election:
As the Trump administration continues to clamp down on opportunities for skilled foreign workers, their neighbors to the north have moved in the other direction. The Canadian government is actively opening its doors to international talent as the country is increasingly becoming a haven for tech innovation, and these efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
Canada has long been an easier option for immigrants if they are unable to get into the United States, but was widely considered the clear-cut second choice. The current US administration’s plans to tighten the borders, including review of the H1-B visa program and halting adoption of the International Entrepreneur Rule, along with its much more restrictive posture toward immigration in general, have started shifting that assumption.
In response to Canada’s pitch to foreign firms and talent, some startups from the US and other countries are beginning to migrate to Canada, and organizations like Toronto-based Extreme Venture are even reaching out to these companies to help them make the move, the Wall Street Journal reported last week:
One taker was fulfil.io, a cloud-based software platform that aids companies in their supply-chain operations. Two of the company’s founders decided to come to Canada in May from their native India after they had to leave the U.S. when their H1-B visas expired and renewal proved difficult. They closed their first sales deal a month later. “Canada looks like the right place to grow,” said one, Sharoon Thomas, fulfil.io CEO. “I’m just surprised that we didn’t think of it first.”
For workers, the pull of a Facebook or Google paycheck and the Silicon Valley locale is still hard to beat, but Canadian government officials, tech leaders, and venture capitalists are making a concerted effort to court American tech talent.
On July 7, Facebook announced it would be “Investing in Menlo Park and the Community” by expanding its headquarters with a mixed-use village called Willow Campus that will have grocery stores, a pharmacy, and even housing.
John Tenanes, Facebook’s VP of Global Facilities and Real Estate, wrote in a post at Facebook’s news blog that the former Menlo Science & Technology Park, a 21-building property purchased by the company in February 2015, will become 135,000 square feet of retail space and 1,500 housing units by early 2021, all open to the public. Recode is reporting there will also be 1.75 million square feet of office space, though it is uncertain whether that will be just for Facebook or also leased to other organizations.
“We found a home when we moved to Menlo Park in 2011,” the blog post opened. “We are part of this community, and being here makes it possible for us to work on our mission to bring the world closer together.”
Tenanes added that 15 percent of the housing units will be offered at below market rates, which should help an area in dire need of affordable housing, and housing in general. Demand has risen considerably since Facebook moved into town, causing rents to skyrocket while creating shortages in supply and displacing lower-income households. Even Facebook employees have had trouble finding affordable housing near headquarters; the company introduced a housing benefit in late 2015 to help staff live closer to high-cost Menlo Park.
Facebook also plans to invest in Menlo Park’s infrastructure, including “tens of millions of dollars” to improve local highway US101, Tenanes wrote, adding that “Willow Campus will be an opportunity to catalyze regional transit investment by providing planned density sufficient to support new east-west connections.”
Netflix’s manifesto on its organizational culture, created by the company’s former chief talent officer Patty McCord and first published as a slide presentation in 2009, has been viewed over 16 million times, while Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg once praised it as “the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.” On Wednesday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced that the company had revised and updated the document “seeking to clarify the many points on which people have had questions.”
The new version of Netflix’s manifesto is given a new format—10 pages of prose as opposed to a 120-slide deck—and according to Hastings, “reflects the emphasis we put on global thinking and inclusiveness, and maintains our joy of working with stunning colleagues.” The new document, which is worth taking the time to read in full, contains many of the same principles that made the original deck so influential: Netflix’s commitment to employee excellence as expressed through behaviors like judgment, curiosity, courage, passion, and innovation.
One key change is the addition of “inclusion” to Netflix’s list of core values, exemplified by employees who “collaborate effectively with people of diverse backgrounds and cultures,” “nurture and embrace differing perspectives to make better decisions,” and “recognize we all have biases, and work to grow past them.” Another change is that the value of “honesty” is now described as “integrity” instead and stresses the need for respect, in addition to candor and directness: Employees are now explicitly directed to “treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you.” Additionally, the new document spells out Netflix’s approach to parental leave: Much like its unlimited, untracked vacation policy, new parents are “encouraged to take whatever time they feel is right in the first year.”
Variety’s senior Silicon Valley correspondent Janko Roettgers parses the new blueprint and pulls out some key takeaways of his own: