We’re used to startups coming along and disrupting paradigms. This time, a startup is simultaneously shaking up a persistent struggle for diversity by being transparent and taking a page from the NFL’s playbook to implement a rule that’s over a decade old.
Today, Slack published an update based on its internal data on diversity and inclusion among its rapidly growing staff. The last time it posted such numbers wasn’t that long ago, but the company reasoned that the expansion of its staff between mid-year 2015, when there were 170 employees, to this month, where they now count nearly 370 employees worldwide, warranted another look.
As with the swelling of the ranks, there are some shifts in the numbers of women, underrepresented minorities, and LGBTQ staff members—and they weren’t always on the plus side. According to the blog post:
- 43% of managers identify as women, and 40% of Slack staff are managed by women, down slightly from the last report.
- In the U.S., 24% of people in Slack’s global engineering organization identified as women, up from 18% in September. Across all departments globally, women are currently 43% of the entire workforce, up from 39% in its September post.
- The black engineering population at Slack has grown to 8.9% of the overall U.S. engineering organization (and over 7.8% globally, compared to just under 7% globally in the last report).
- The Hispanic/Latino(a) population was either negligible or obscured by having a broad multiracial category in Slack’s first survey. In this most recent survey, 5.6% of the U.S. engineering organization reported themselves to be Hispanic/Latino(a), along with 6.1% of all U.S. technical employees.
- The LGBTQ population has grown from 10% of Slack’s global workforce in June to 13% of its global population in December.
To get these numbers, Slack issued diversity surveys in which employees voluntarily self-reported data anonymously on their race/ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Not every employee answered, but the company reports 90% participation both times it issued the surveys.
What it shows is that Slack is better than some of its peer tech companies, and not as good as others. For example, Apple’s last diversity report showed that the majority (69%) of its staff globally was male, and 54% were white compared with 57% of Slack’s staff identifying as male and 66.6% identifying as white, globally.
Among Pinterest’s 700-plus person staff, female employees increased from 40% to 42%, but as Fast Company reported in November, the proportion of women in tech roles remained unchanged (21%) from the previous year, as they did for African-American and Latino employees overall, which stayed at 1% and 2%, respectively. Among Intel’s 107,000 employees, only 24.8% are women.
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.
Implemented in 2003, it boosted the number of minority coaches to about 20%, but as recently as 2015, only six of the league's 32 head coaches are minorities, down from a peak number of eight in 2011, according to a report on ESPN. Some NFL professionals said that even though their names were added to the list, they might never make it past a phone interview, indicating that the only reason they were called was for the hiring team to say they had fulfilled their Rooney Rule requirement.
Both Facebook and Pinterest have adopted versions of the Rooney Rule, but as mentioned before, Pinterest hasn’t made much headway to changing the ratio yet.
Slack promises to keep reporting on progress. Stay tuned.