Pinterest created a new role that's emblematic of Silicon Valley's realization of its growing problem. Candice Morgan joins the company on January 11 as its first-ever head of diversity. She was previously at Catalyst Inc., a global consultancy focused on diversity and inclusion, where she spent nearly a decade working with organizations across a range of industries from finance to construction, technology and consumer goods.
Morgan’s hire comes on the heels of Pinterest’s very modest progress to change the face(s) of its talent pool. Originally prompted by one of its female programmers, Tracy Chou, who brought Pinterest’s appalling lack of diversity to light two years ago, the company pledged to increase the number of women and people of color among its ranks.
At the end of July, the numbers had barely budged. Female employees increased from 40% to 42%, but as Fast Company reported in November, the proportion of women in tech roles at Pinterest (21%) remained unchanged from the previous year, as they did for African-American and Latino employees overall, which stayed at 1% and 2%, respectively.
In a blog post, Pinterest cofounder Evan Sharp admitted there was more work to be done to increase the number of employees from all underrepresented backgrounds, and adjusted the company’s goals to increase hiring rates for women and underrepresented minorities in engineering, as well as boost the diversity among non-engineering staff.
One way the company planned to tackle this was by taking a page from an NFL initiative called the Rooney Rule, which requires at least one person from an underrepresented background and one female candidate to be interviewed for every open leadership position.
Sharp told Fast Company last fall, "We’ve got to do something more effective this year," because the company’s efforts were being stymied by the continued referral of candidates who were white or Asian men.
Enter Candice Morgan. She tells Fast Company that Pinterest’s 2016 hiring goals are "aggressive for a reason," and as such, has no immediate plans to overhaul them for the 700-plus person company. "They were based on research, looking at the talent pool, who is available, and who is coming out of certain programs. They were thoughtfully crafted." Then she adds, "In the world of diversity, things take time."
Morgan believes Pinterest’s transparency of its diversity initiatives is equally important to make those goals a reality. And not just because of accountability. "Internally, everyone needs to know what the business link is, and what impact will it have on [them]," she explains.
Telling the rest of the world is just as key, she contends, and one of the reasons she was drawn to the work at Pinterest. Still, she maintains that there needs to be a level of humility around their ambitions, and that there are no guarantees that an initiative will work. The latter is not easy because it opens up the floor to criticism. "The peanut gallery is very loud," she quips, laughing.
On a more serious note, Morgan points out, "Conversations around diversity around difference are generally very charged," she says, because people often have personal connections to it.
That’s why she says it is important to be transparent about what methods are being implemented to diversify the talent and employee pool, such as using science-based research and metrics that are applied universally, in order to move the conversation forward. Even though there is plenty of research to indicate that diverse teams perform better, she says, there are still a lot of misinterpretations.
As a woman of color, Morgan says her experience being a minority in both her education and professional life has given her a certain perspective and understanding. "That is not to say that we can pick and choose which demographic background can understand these sorts of things," Morgan emphasizes. "We all have experiences where we felt like an outsider," she continues, pointing out the fact that she was "super tall" in junior high, and that she spent time working in countries where she didn’t speak the language, all of which had nothing to do with race or gender, but still made her feel excluded.
Exclusivity has reigned in Silicon Valley for a long time. As many startups pride themselves on creating their own cultures from scratch, they’ve consciously or unconsciously created an environment that encourages people to hire based on who is most like them.
However, hiring for culture in that way, says Morgan, "is not great for business," not to mention diversity, as Pinterest experienced firsthand. What is important, she says, is looking for a value fit. In other words, if the company is a creative agency, the candidates should demonstrate their own creativity. Morgan says it’s human nature to gravitate toward others like us, so a criteria system has to be a part of the hiring process that calls for standard competencies, "so people don’t default to their basic comfort zone."
A list of competencies doesn’t always cut it, and that’s part of the reason why Pinterest is using the Rooney Rule. Morgan says that while it can be an effective equalizer by ensuring more diverse job applicants are considered, it also serves to deepen the conversation around diversity and inclusion. "If the candidate doesn’t have on paper that different demographic," she explains, "at least the conversation was had."
Does Morgan think that anyone is getting diversity right? That depends on how you look at it, she says. Is it just about hiring more women and minorities? Is it about retaining those who do join the staff? Is it about making leadership more diverse? She posits that even a company that’s meeting diversity goals can be susceptible to economic shifts or executive changes. Ultimately, while she’s feeling positive, Morgan states, "It’s ongoing work."