Latest diversity-in-tech flashpoint flares up at Squarespace

Latest diversity-in-tech flashpoint flares up at Squarespace

A Medium post out this week offers a look inside Portland’s Squarespace office. And it isn’t pretty. At least not for one former employee.

Stephanie Duncker posted her story Tuesday after another high profile former employee posted her story online.

A high profile startup is under fire from former employees.

Robert Churchill

Squarespace landed in Portland in 2014, opening a customer care office. The Portland-based team is roughly 140 people, said Seine Kim, head of communications for the company.

According to Duncker, she was the only black employee at the Portland office at the time she left. And when she brought it up, she was rebuffed.

Here’s how she put it:

“When I brought this to their attention and asked for more diversified recruiting efforts they basically blamed it on the demographics of Portland. Being the type of person I am, I came prepared with stats. I told them that if Portland is 6.3% black then there should be at least 10 black people there based on the demographics, instead of the two there were at the time. Of course the response to this was some mess about preserving the culture (their go-to deflection/response for just about any concern brought up). It took everything within my power not to say ‘So…you’re telling me you’re more interested in propping up a culture that’s exclusionary to black people than actually changing that culture to be more inclusive.’”

I asked Kim about the demographics of the Portland office and if there are any efforts to diversify the Portland workforce. She didn’t comment on diversity efforts and had this to say:

“While it is our policy not to comment on HR issues involving current or former employees, we can confirm that Squarespace has long-standing policies against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Our workplace integrity is of the utmost importance and we take any such allegations very seriously. We work hard to maintain an open and safe work environment here at Squarespace.”

Duncker has since moved on and is program manager of the Startup PDX Challenge, a program created by the Portland Development Commission focused on supporting minority entrepreneurs.

She has been praised on social media for speaking out. Tweets like these from Stephen Green, part of Elevate Capital, a new venture launching in Portland with a focus on funding diverse entrepreneurs:

“These are the experiences we need to see change in the #startup scene.”
“@DUNX Thanks so much for telling your story. This is the kind of stuff that helps people understand why pledges & intentions are not enough.”

All this comes as Portland’s tech community struggles with diversity issues. According to numbers gathered by the city, the workforce is 81 percent white, 8 percent Latino, 3 percent black and 6 percent Asian. The tech industry is 84 percent white, 4 percent Latino, 2 percent black and 9 percent Asian.

There are efforts by companies to address these issues, and the PDC has launched a diversity project that asks companies to sign a pledge to do better and follow five action plans.

How this is working is still unclear. Twenty-three companies have signed on to the pledge, including Puppet Labs, Instrument, Elemental Technologies and New Relic.

There is also more discussion around town about the city’s lack of diversity in tech, as well as ways that companies can address the issue. Earlier this year there was a clear focus on diversity with a number of events for Startup Week focused on the issue.


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