What Pinterest is learning from the Pittsburgh Steelers about diversity

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Exclusive: Pinterest launches innovative diversity project.

On Thursday, Pinterest made public its ambitious plan to boost diversity, which seeks to hire a greater percentage of women and underrepresented minorities for engineering and leadership roles at the company.The San Francisco company is setting ambitious goals to hire more women and minorities — and it’s making those goals public to hold itself accountable.The image-sharing site today said it has put in place specific diversity goals for 2016, including increasing the hiring rate for full time engineering roles to 30% women and 8% underrepresented minorities.

Silicon Valley companies have been releasing data on their diversity for a couple of years, but those reports have largely served to identify a problem — not to improve it.Today Pinterest announced its annual workforce diversity stats, revealing an overwhelmingly White and Asian male staff, though with a growing number of female engineers. Companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are taking note, including Pinterest, which took inspiration from the National Football League for its latest diversity initiatives.

Pinterest chief creative officer Evan Sharp, one of Fast Company’s most creative people, outlined the company’s specific goals for the next year in a blog post: Implement a Rooney Rule-type requirement where at least one person from an underrepresented background and one female candidate is interviewed for every open leadership position. The social media site has been transparent with their numbers and made “modest progress” over the past year, increasing the share of female employees to 40% from 42%. Part of its new strategy, Pinterest says, will include altering its recruitment process to expand the set of universities it targets, and creating an early identification intern program for college freshmen and sophomores. “By sharing these goals publicly, we’re holding ourselves accountable to make meaningful changes to how we approach diversity at Pinterest,” Sharp wrote in his post. “We’ll also be sharing what’s working and what isn’t as we go, so hopefully other companies can learn along with us. The targets include having women make up at least 30 percent of the full-time engineers it hires, having people from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds make up at least 8 percent of those hires, and having people from those backgrounds make up at least 12 percent of all other hires. Over time, we hope to help build an industry that is truly diverse, and by extension more inclusive, creative and effective.” Though the tech industry has become increasingly transparent recently—many companies released diversity figures last year—delineating exact numbers is still a rare move.

Her goal: To gather data that would shed light on just how profound a problem the technology industry was wrestling with and to encourage the industry to make a stronger commitment to address it. “The actual numbers I’ve seen and experienced in the industry are far lower than anybody is willing to admit,” she wrote at the time in a piece on Medium. “This means nobody is having honest conversations about the issue.” Since then, major technology companies from Google to Apple to Facebook have stepped forward, reporting diversity statistics on an annual basis. Women only account for 21 percent of Pinterest’s most recent engineering hires, making next year’s hiring goal close to a 50 percent increase to its average.

Founders and executives should collect more precise data about their staff and the roles they occupy in the organization; expand their network through hosting events that draw a diverse crowd; rethink the hiring process so that people have a multitude of ways to demonstrate their skill set; and create an inclusive company culture. The company is also setting up an “Inclusion Labs” with Paradigm, a strategy firm focused on diversity, to experiment with better ways to create a more diverse staff. The rule was implemented in 2003 following the firings of head coaches Tony Dungy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dennis Green of the Minnesota Vikings, despite both coaches having impressive winning records. They will offer a workshop on unconscious bias, host events like Blacks in Tech and Future Female Founders, change hiring practices that may put some candidates at a disadvantage, and continue to collect better data. Around that same time, a study came out that revealed that black head coaches, despite winning a higher percentage of games, were less likely to be hired (and more likely fired) than their white counterparts.

While several tech giants, such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, have publicly shared their diversity numbers—largely driven after Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou began collecting numbers about women in tech in 2013—not all that much has changed. But Pinterest thinks that with specific goals and programs it can finally move the needle. “Despite new initiatives tech companies are putting in to place, they have showed virtually no progress or movement,” Reverend Jesse L.

But we have more work to do to increase the number of employees from all underrepresented backgrounds, which is why we’re setting goals and taking the steps below. Jackson, Sr., said in a statement. “Pinterest’s approach stands in stark contrast, combining aspiration with concrete measurable intention, and is one that other companies would do well to emulate.” In addition, Pinterest will work with outside groups to figure out ways in can improve diversity, recruit from a larger pool of universities and require employee training to prevent unconscious bias. Users collect photos and link to products they love, creating their own pinboards and following the pinboards of other people whom they fi… read more »

More from WSJ.D: And make sure to visit WSJ.D for all of our news, personal tech coverage, analysis and more, and add our XML feed to your favorite reader. With help from Paradigm, Pinterest has begun to collect more “granular” data beyond overall demographic numbers, for example breaking out engineering roles from technical roles, so Pinterest can measure and learn from the data and communicate it clearly, said Joelle Emerson, CEO and founder of Paradigm.

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