Pinterest: Diversity is more important than ever

Pinterest: Diversity is more important than ever

AN FRANCISCO — At Pinterest’s weekly staff meeting on the Friday after the presidential election, co-founders Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp and diversity chief Candice Morgan got up and reiterated the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The high-tech industry is appealing to a global marketplace, where women and minorities increasingly wield economic power. Yet concern had spread among women and people of color alienated by Donald Trump’s campaign that tech companies would shrink from diversity efforts in the changing political climate, reversing the small gains Silicon Valley has achieved so far.

Pinterest executives say changing the demographics of the industry has never been more important. “Evan and I have always believed that building diverse teams is essential to building great products. Diverse teams come with a broader set of experiences, which means they often have new perspectives and ideas,” Silbermann said.

The San Francisco start-up has been at the forefront of making a public commitment to hiring more women and underrepresented minorities since one of its former engineers issued a call to action in 2013. Tracy Chou uploaded a spreadsheet to the code-sharing platform Github and challenged tech companies to make public the number of female engineers in their ranks.

Leading technology companies from Google to Facebook stepped forward, reporting diversity statistics on an annual basis, starting in 2014. The statistics showed huge, growing populations have been largely left out of the tech economy’s rapid wealth and job gains. In sharp contrast with tech’s varied users, the industry is dominated by white and Asian men.

Underrepresented minorities comprise a distinct minority among Silicon Valley tech companies, including at Pinterest. They make up 6% of employees, vs. the 22% of employees in non-tech firms in the area, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pinterest, which describes itself as “the world’s catalog of ideas,” is a digital pinboard that private investors have valued at $11 billion. Its executives say they must build a diverse workforce to thrive. So they responded in July 2015 by setting ambitious goals to hire more women and minorities and, in a rare move, it shared those goals — a vow to remake the company’s demographics in the public eye.

On Friday, the company offered a status report on its progress. Its overall demographics have not budged much. Some goals were met, a key one was not.

Company lowers hiring goal

Pinterest didn’t achieve the 30% hiring rate it set for women in engineering roles and has now decreased that goal to 25% for 2017 because it was too aggressive. The company had a 22% hiring rate for women in engineering roles in 2016, it said. That was, in part, because Pinterest decided to prioritize hiring senior women in key roles to serve as role models, such as Li Fan, Pinterest’s head of engineering, Morgan says.

Additionally, 49% of engineering interns in 2016 were women, up from 32% last year. Women in technical roles, including engineers, product managers and product designers, rose to 26% from 21%.

Pinterest says it more than doubled the number of people in the company from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds to 7%. It increased the hiring rate of engineers from underrepresented ethnic groups to 9% from 1%, surpassing its goal of 8%. Nearly a third of underrepresented engineers hired were in senior roles, Morgan said.

The number of underrepresented ethnic minorities who are new engineering graduates rose to 9% from 2% in 2015. About 20% of engineering interns in 2016 came from underrepresented ethnic groups, up from 4% in 2015. Overall, Pinterest increased the hiring rate for people from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds in non-engineering roles to 12% from 7%.

“You look around and you really see it. I’ve had many people remark to me how amazing it is to see that diversity in the faces around the office and in the building,” Morgan said.

The hiring gains came as the company grew by 51% to more than 1,000 employees, but they did not significantly change the overall demographics of the company.

Pinterest has more women overall than most tech companies: 44%, up from 42%. But men still dominate tech (74%), engineering (80%) and leadership (83%). Women fare better in business roles, where they account for 66% of employees.

Like most tech companies, Pinterest is overwhelmingly white and Asian. Nearly half the company is white and 41% is Asian. Underrepresented minorities made progress but remain a tiny fraction of the Pinterest workforce. African Americans account for 2% in engineering, 2% in tech and 3% in business. No African Americans held leadership roles. Hispanics fare slightly better: 4% overall, 3% in engineering, 2% in tech, 5% in business, 4% in leadership roles. The leadership of Pinterest is 70% white and 22% Asian.

Morgan says Pinterest didn’t make as much progress as it would like, but that it learned a great deal that will help boost efforts to increase employee diversity in 2017.

Among the lessons: Talk about why diversity matters all the time and get hiring managers to take ownership of the company’s goals along with recruiter and work harder on hiring senior leaders so prospective and current employees see representation among their peers and among company leaders.

“Some of the most effective ways to make progress are to do just what Pinterest is doing: set measurable, public goals and hold yourself accountable to those goals,” Van Jones, who has fought for greater inclusion in the tech industry, said in a statement. “As Pinterest has demonstrated with their update, accountability is paramount to help tech companies reach diversity goals.”


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