Women in Tech Band Together to Track Diversity, After Hours

Women in Tech Band Together to Track Diversity, After Hours

Ellen Pao spent the last few years spotlighting the technology industry’s lack of diversity, in court and beyond. Erica Baker caused a stir at Google when she started a spreadsheet last year for employees to share their salaries, highlighting the pay disparities between those of different genders doing the same job. Laura I. Gómez founded a start-up focused on improving diversity in the hiring process.

Now the three — along with five other prominent Silicon Valley women from companies including Pinterest, Stripe and Slack — are starting an effort to collect and share data to help diversify the rank-and-file employees who make up tech companies. The nonprofit venture, called Project Include, was unveiled on Tuesday.

“The standard mantra for every company on diversity statistics is, ‘We’re not doing well, but we’re working on it,’” said Ms. Pao, a former venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who sued the firm for accusations of gender discrimination and lost. “People don’t learn anything from that. Can you tell us what are you actually doing?”

The group’s push is one of the more visible diversity efforts to come from women in Silicon Valley as tech companies grapple with criticism over the makeup of their work forces, which skew white and male. Over the last few years, tech entrepreneurs like Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code and Laura Weidman Powers of Code 2040 have promoted the inclusion of young women and minorities in early computer science education programs with their start-ups.

Project Include stands out because of the number of well-known tech women in the group who have championed diversity and are now banding together. Ms. Pao, for one, was in the headlines last year for her court case against Kleiner Perkins, as well as her ouster as interim chief executive of Reddit, the online message board. Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest who is also a founding member of Project Include, has been one of the most vocal engineers concerning the lack of female peers.

Project Include’s other founders are Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at the Kapor Center and a longtime proponent of inclusion in tech, Susan Wu of the mobile payments start-up Stripe, Y-Vonne Hutchinson of the diversity consulting firm ReadySet and Bethanye McKinney Blount, a former executive at Reddit.

All of them are working on Project Include outside of their respective workplaces, on their own time.

As part of Project Include, the group plans to extract commitments from tech companies to track the diversity of their work forces over time and eventually share that data with other start-ups. The effort will focus on start-ups that employ 25 to 1,000 workers, in the hope of spurring the companies to think about equality sooner rather than later. The project will also ask for participation from venture capital firms that advise and mentor the start-ups.

Project Include aims to have 18 companies as part of its first cohort; a few have already signed up. The group will meet regularly for seven months to define and track specific metrics. At the end of that period, the group will publish an anonymized set of results to show the progress — or lack thereof — that the start-ups have made around diversity.

“If companies start early with diversity and inclusion, they don’t have to bolt it on later, which is much harder,” said Ms. Baker, the former Google engineer, who now works at Slack, a workplace collaboration software start-up.

The group’s push is intended to cut through tech’s slow pace of change on diversity. Large companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have openly admitted their failings in creating diverse work forces, and some have started programs to move the needle. But that has not seemed to spur much movement in views on the issue.

In December, for instance, Michael Moritz, a partner at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, made headlines when he said in an interview that his firm — which had no female investment partners in the United States — would focus on hiring women but would not “lower its standards” to do so. He also said the firm was blind to gender and race.

“It is this incredibly self-serving mythology that we are the best and the brightest, and that the best ideas rise to the top and will get funded,” said Ms. Kapor Klein, noting there is plenty of data to show that minority access to tech programs and networks is worse than that of white males. “Despite an avalanche of rigorous data to the contrary, the belief in pure meritocracy persists.”

Many of the women involved in Project Include were already leading diversity efforts before they decided to collaborate. Last year, for example, Ms. Pao became something of a magnet for women who were disenfranchised with inequality issues in tech after her case against Kleiner Perkins.

So when Ms. Pao had the seeds of the idea for what would become Project Include, it was easy to find others to join forces. She reached out over Twitter’s private message system to Ms. Baker, who is known in Silicon Valley for raising awareness around diversity issues. Ms. Baker in turn introduced Ms. Pao to Ms. Hutchinson; Ms. Pao already knew Ms. Blount through their time working together at Reddit. Eventually, over a dinner, they settled on a group of eight, with a number of outside supporters.

Kate Mitchell, managing director at the venture capital firm Scale Venture Partners and a co-chairwoman of a National Venture Capital Association task force on diversity, said her group was working with Project Include because of its tech-centric, start-up approach to sharing data and information with other participants.

“It’s taking a page out of open-source software,” Ms. Mitchell said. “You measure, you try things, you iterate and then you build on top of each other’s ideas and make your companies even better.”

The hope, over time, is for members of Project Include to form a community open to discussing inclusion issues among one another. “A lot of these conversations are very uncomfortable for people,” Ms. Pao said. “These are exactly the types of uncomfortable conversations that we need to have.”


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