Give a man a fishing rod and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime, they say. For women around the world today, regular access to Wi-Fi and a smartphone would prove much more useful to achieving economic security.
A recent Accenture report found that boosting women’s “digital fluency” — their access to the web and basic mobile devices that most Westerners take for granted — is among the most effective ways to close the global gender gap. Globally, women benefit when they can get online to find information on better-paid work and more successful careers. And leveling the digital playing field this way helps to make the world’s workplaces more equitable for all employees.
Across the globe, women are still paid less than men, and they are often excluded from the formal workforce altogether. But doubling the rate at which women can use digital tools would cut in half the time needed to reach global gender parity, Accenture found, and bring almost 100 million additional women into the workforce.
So, what does a worldwide information revolution for working women look like? Here are a few possibilities.
Big Impact in the Developing World
Most of the benefits to come from boosting digital fluency would be in the developing world, as women there face more pressing challenges and have less overall access to digital tools than women in Europe or America, says Barbara Harvey, managing director at Accenture Research. “The potential there is so much greater, so you affect so many more people,” she says.
Gains are already being felt as cheaper telecommunication technologies filter into poor, rural areas. In Tanzania, for instance, women in remote villages are using smartphones to map property boundaries and secure land-ownership rights, while midwives are sending text messages to order birth certificates for young girls, which helps them access schooling, health care and basic financial services.
In Bangladesh, many female factory workers are now paid through mobile-app-based money-transfer services, giving them more control over earnings that have been traditionally often confiscated by their husbands or mothers-in-law.
And in Nigeria, female entrepreneurs are using mobile devices to build customer bases in areas they can’t travel to safely in person, and to develop professional relationships with men, with whom it can be socially inappropriate for them to meet one-on-one.
Making Work More Accessible
In the developed world, of course, most people already have phones and web access, so reaping the benefits of new technologies is a more complex notion, and the gains aren’t always as clear-cut. Still, having basic digital gadgets like a phone or a laptop can make a big difference to women, Harvey says.
Consider a woman who has a 90-minute commute to her office: Give her the tools to work remotely, and you’ve dramatically boosted her productivity and her earning potential. “Suddenly she can work from home, and that hour and half can become paid work,” Harvey says. “Her working day increases by three hours.”
For working mothers, especially, the flexibility offered by new technologies can open more opportunities. One recent morning, PowerToFly founder Katharine Zaleski took her week-old baby to the pediatrician, came home, settled him down quietly at her side — then grabbed her phone and called a journalist to discuss her diversity-in-hiring startup.
That kind of gear-crunching change in roles — from new mom to president of a company with $7.5 million in early stage funding — is all in a day’s work for the modern woman, Zaleski says. Thanks to teleconferencing systems, Google Docs, Skype and other staples of the digital workplace, it’s possible for women to work more flexibly, participate more fully in the labor force and successfully juggle work and family life in ways that previous generations could not.
Even just a few decades ago, most women left the workforce after having children or saw their careers take a backseat to raising them, Zaleski says. “There was no way my mother, back in the 1980s, could have stayed connected to her job without email or a [mobile] phone,” she says. “The tools we have today are huge drivers for gender diversity and inclusion.”
The Benefits Aren’t Distributed Equally
Of course, it’s easy enough for a woman who runs her own company to use technology to improve her working life. As her own boss, Zaleski didn’t have to persuade anyone to let her work from home, or ask permission to stay connected during her maternity leave.
Many women aren’t so lucky: Big companies like Yahoo, Bank of America and IBM are all walking back their remote-working policies. There’s little benefit to having technologies that allow flexible working if your bosses are philosophically opposed to telecommuting.
There’s also a risk that the benefits of increased flexibility will accrue to the employer, not the employee. Flexibility made possible by the gig economy might be a lifeline for some workers, but it can leave others scrambling from one poorly paid gig to another, living without benefits or a steady paycheck — a situation plenty of mothers are already familiar with around the world.
That’s especially bad news for women, with a growing body of data showing that the biases women face in the conventional workplace are amplified in the gig economy. Bosses who lack a continuing relationship with workers often default to instinctive judgements — including gender stereotypes — when making decisions about who to hire and how much to pay them.
“An increasingly freelance workforce may make the problem of male privilege even worse,” warns Hernán Galperin, Research Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Just a Band-Aid?
For conventional employers, there’s a risk that new technologies can serve as a kind of Band-Aid, allowing companies to present themselves as champions of gender equity without actually doing much to change the status quo.
The increasing use of digital tools across workplaces is creating a firehose of data that companies can use to monitor diversity and inclusion, identify problems and develop creative solutions, says Patti Fletcher, a leadership futurist with SAP SuccessFactors.
That’s a good thing, Fletcher says, but measurement alone doesn’t change anything. Organizations can make grandiose public statements about their values, collect swaths of data about their diversity practices — and then fail to convert those insights into any kind of meaningful action.
That’s rather like publicly announcing that you’ll run a marathon, ostentatiously mapping out a diet and exercise regime, then slumping onto a couch and never actually hitting the pavement. “If you focus on analytics but don’t change anything about what you’re doing, you’re really missing the boat,” Fletcher warns.
Walking the Walk
For companies that genuinely want to make a difference for women, there are plenty of ways to use technology to drive gender equity — and many are much more sophisticated than simply giving your female employees company laptops.
One promising option is to use tech such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to disrupt existing decision-making processes in ways that can nudge managers into making more equitable decisions.
That can be as simple as using automated CV-sorting tools that highlight the best candidates for a job, regardless of their gender. But it can also involve thoughtfully baking AI tools into the processes of mid-level managers whose evaluations often determine which employees are given a chance to progress into more senior roles.
While AI systems certainly aren’t immune from bias, companies like SAP are creating machine-learning platforms that can spot a manager inadvertently penalizing a female employee for taking time out for family, for instance, and prompt them to reconsider their decision. “Ultimately, what you’re doing is giving your people the ability to make critical, informed decisions,” Fletcher says. “We have the technology, and it really feels like a tipping point.”
Finding Power in Numbers
New technologies are also making it easier for female employees to share information, whether through internal social networks or third-party websites and services.
As the #MeToo movement has shown, it’s easier than ever for women to support one another, to speak out against unjust or abusive workplace behavior and to find strategies for coping with challenges. “There’s nothing like power in numbers,” Fletcher says. “The voice we have if we all come together? That’s powerful.”
It’s especially important when it comes to combating the pay gap. Overall, women currently earn just 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, with three quarters of U.S. companies paying male employees more.
Making it easier for workers to share salary information — as companies like Whole Foods and CrowdFunder now routinely do, and as younger workers are increasingly willing to do — makes it harder for unequal pay practices to continue, and gives women (and their male allies) the information they need to advocate for change. “If you know what you’re being paid and what your coworkers are being paid, it allows the conversation to at least begin,” University of Baltimore law professor Nancy Modessit told CNN.
Technology Alone Isn’t Enough
At the end of the day, however, technology only brings the tools; you still need a supportive culture and strong leadership to use them to impact gender equity positively. It doesn’t matter how much access to tech a woman has if her supervisors aren’t willing to let her work remotely. And flashy AI tools won’t bring about change unless there’s a genuine commitment from senior leaders to make inclusion a priority.
Part of the issue is that, while a company’s commitment to diversity needs to be driven by the C-suite, the solutions themselves need to be aligned to the actual needs of female employees. That can only happen if managers ask women what they want and need, then work to understand their answers, says Rohini Anand, senior vice president and global diversity officer at Sodexo.
On a recent trip to India, Anand met with a group of female middle-managers. She walked in full of ideas about how to help them climb the career ladder, but the conversation soon took an unexpected turn.
“I thought I knew all the answers, and I went in with fancy notions of development for women. But when I sat down and had conversations with women in entry-level management roles and asked what they wanted, I was stunned by their answers,” Anand says.
It turned out that many of the women lived with their husband’s parents — a common arrangement in India — and, after working all day, were expected to cook and clean for the whole family. These women didn’t want AI recruitment tools or a fancier smartphone; they wanted a way to show their mothers-in-law that they were doing important work outside the home.
Anand threw a lavish awards ceremony to honor the young women. “We made a big deal out of it, so that the mothers-in-law could see that their daughters-in-law were respected and well-regarded,” she says. “It shifted some of that dynamic at home.”
Listen to Your Employees
Zaleski recalls that, after the birth of her first child, she felt sidelined by colleagues who — thinking they were protecting her — wound up excluding her from conversations and decisions she would have preferred to be a part of.
“Overnight, I went from an executive at a company to someone whose job was changing diapers, and it was terrible,” she says.
Some women prefer to unplug from their working lives during maternity leave, and that’s perfectly OK, Zaleski says. But it’s a decision that each woman should be allowed to make for herself. And when women decide they want to stay involved, they should be given the technological resources and institutional support to make that happen.
The key, she says, is to recognize that the current workplace was designed by and for men. While technology can be an important enabler for working women, it needs to be accompanied by cultural changes in order to create environments where women can thrive on their own terms. “So many women have to pretend they aren’t women at work, and they end up leaving because they’re trying to conform to workplaces that were never set up for women in the first place,” she says.
As the boss of her own company, Zaleski has been able to design her second maternity leave according to her own needs. She says she’s modeling her time off on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s parental leave — taking a break from the office and focusing on her new baby, but not disengaging or walking away from her leadership responsibilities.
“This time around I’m working from home. I’m staying engaged with my team, and they’re sending me stuff to look at,” she says. “I’m so much happier than last time.”
People are at the heart of every business, but many HR teams only recently started to shift away from focusing on processes to focusing on employees.
“There’s a whole series of underlying drivers, which are forcing organizations and HR teams in particular to focus less on HR processes and what we might call transactional HR,” says Paul Burrin, vice president of Sage People. “Instead, we’re focusing more towards really figuring out how HR leads and champions the conversation around their employees and their workforce experiences, and really doing what’s necessary to build better employer brands, so that you’re in a better position compete in the global skills crisis.”
Creating a people-based HR system can help your business grow. It will give you the time to focus on designing and delivering better experiences that not only attract and retain the skilled workers your organization needs, but drives a high-performance culture to remain competitive at a time when U.S. productivity remains at its lowest for years.
Driving Meaningful Performance Conversations
“Employees have expectations — they want to get feedback, they want to know how they’re doing, they want to feel valued,” Burrin says. In order to accomplish this, companies need to have continuous conversations about performance. “Don’t wait for half a year or a year for that biannual or annual performance review.”
Waiting to give employee reviews is inefficient. Managers end up spending hours going through information, digging up specific examples of things employees did well and things they didn’t. “It becomes quite hard to do, and let’s be honest, many managers don’t like doing performance reviews and aren’t very good at it — either because they’re not very good at coaching and helping people, because that’s not necessarily a core skill that they have, or more frequently they don’t have the supporting data to actually do a good performance review,” Burrin says.
Instead of a bi-annual or annual performance review, continuous performance conversations allow companies to constantly adjust and change things as needed, allowing them to be more effective at listening to and getting the best out of their people. Burrin says using peer recognition, social shout-outs and other means gives a more helpful and useful understanding as to how people in an organization are performing.
Leveraging the Science of People
Data is crucial for driving better decisions, but we often fail in the execution of what we learn from that data. Burrin says Sage People’s surveys have found that about 83 percent of HR leaders agree that they should be making people decisions based on data, but that only 37 percent actually do that. “There’s a desire to do the right thing with people, and to use information and data in the right way, but the fact is, it’s still an ongoing challenge.”
Within the next five or 10 years, Burrin says the introduction of augmented intelligence and artificial intelligence will help HR teams make better use of data by focusing on people. As augmented systems become more widespread, they’ll gain more data, and as the machines get smarter they’ll help make HR processes more effective.
“Augmented intelligence is really machines working with people to help them get better outcomes. A good example could be in recruitment, where you can you use AI or augmented intelligence to actually help deal with bias in interviewing techniques, and trying to make sure you’re not asking questions or you’re not in a position where you’re introducing more bias into the conversation,” Burrin notes.
Supporting HR Teams with Diverse Skills
Traditional HR skills are being supplemented by a whole range of very different skills, Burrin says. “We’re now seeing the emergence of people scientists, who actually focus on employee information, employee data, and start looking for trends and patterns, and help businesses make better decisions around their people based on people science,” he says.
To successfully create a people-based system, Burrin says HR departments will need people who:
Are from different disciplines or with different backgrounds.
Have strong data and analytical skills.
Understand the importance of marketing and communications.
Most HR leaders in the U.S. don’t even have a traditional HR background now, Burrin notes. “They’ve been bringing people in from different disciplines or from different backgrounds, which are not your traditional HR background, in order to deal with the very real shift from HR to People and their ultimate quest to become People Companies,” Burrin said.
Automation and artificial intelligence are already starting to transform recruiting and talent development — and Amber Grewal, the vice president of global talent acquisition at IBM, is at the forefront of that revolution.
Grewal has two decades of experience in the art and science of talent attraction and management, serving in several leadership roles at General Electric, Microsoft, Symantec and KPMG, where she led the transformation of talent acquisition in the digital era.
At IBM, Grewal oversees the strategic vision for talent acquisition. She also leads numerous activities supporting diversity, inclusion and gender equality. She’ll be talking about all that and more in her presentation this spring at UNLEASH America in Las Vegas.
What are you going to be talking about during your UNLEASH presentation?
I will be discussing AI and the future of recruiting, as well as how the era of machine learning is changing the talent acquisition function. AI has become a buzzword recently, however, AI has been in the market for a very long time, since 1960. It was associated with automation during that time. What makes AI different now in the current market, as well as the future, is the major role it plays in the era of machine learning. Some key questions TA professionals must ask themselves are how do you introduce AI into systems that predict, systems that think, and systems that listen, as well as how do you use machine learning to drive outcomes and predictions? This is where I think many functions of HR will change, specifically talent acquisition. I want to walk people through how to use AI to enable a talent acquisition function to provide better experiences, be more productive, have more speed and really create a new era.
What is ‘cognitive talent management’?
Cognitive talent management is a way to look at the end-to-end HR transformation – all the way from attracting to growing – and figuring out how to build an AI-enabled talent-management function. When we say it’s “cognitively connected,” we mean you’re using AI in every interaction, including attracting, engaging, retaining, developing and growing talent. In the past, HR has been very siloed. You have recruiting has its own set of processes and strategies, learning and development has separate ways of accomplishing their goals, workforce planning and retention teams follow their own plan and so on. In this common scenario, you don’t have any systems connecting all of this together. So how do you build a talent-management system that has a digital thread across all functions? You do it with AI. You connect it by personalizing every single experience and every moment of impact for candidates and employees, and as they’re developing their careers.
What’s an example of personalization in recruiting that you’ve implemented at IBM?
There are multiple examples, but let’s start with attraction and how IBM has personalized the candidate experience. Think about recruiting in the past: Candidates would go to a career site and look through thousands and thousands of jobs, and many times it’s the same job. They do a keyword search, they look by location, or any other filter available to them. There’s no personalization to any of this. But now, what we’ve done is integrated Watson into the career experience for candidates. Watson is engaging with applicants, having a conversation with them, learning from that conversation to understand what that applicant is truly looking for, and then making recommendations on a personalized job for them. Whether candidates have a conversation with Watson, or upload a resume, Watson will match a personalized job for them.
I have tested this out, so I’ll give you an example. If you look at my career or my background, you’ll see there’s a lot of transformation, reinvention, work in AI, and change management. The common theme in all of this has been talent acquisition. If I do a typical search and just say jobs in HR or jobs in talent acquisition, I get various results like payroll or a recruiter — things for which I would not be a good fit. But when I followed the same steps with Watson-enabled career site, for example, Watson not only gave me more senior jobs in talent acquisition that were open, but also broader jobs I wouldn’t have considered, such as a transformation change-management consultant or an agile innovation lead. It gave me the opportunity to consider jobs I would not have even considered by personalizing the job search to my experience.
What kind of results have you seen so far?
We’ve seen great results with this — 86 percent of candidates that use our career site engage with Watson, with 96 percent of those candidates looking at the recommended jobs by Watson. From this, 35 percent have applied to a job they never would have thought about applying to if not for Watson’s personalized recommendation. This is providing us a much more diverse talent pool than we’ve ever had before.
In terms of career engagement, for IBM, it has been all about creating an AI-enabled HR function to help employees have a more personalized experience. It’s about having proactive retention insights, cognitive talent alerts that keep track of the time an employee is ready to be considered for a promotion, and having readily available sentiment analysis to ensure employees are getting offered personalized learning and development opportunities. We have taken many measures to embody AI in our full talent life cycle.
Is this type of technology something you see being adopted broadly by companies of all sizes?
I think we’re going to need it everywhere. I think you need to start by looking at what’s happening in the industry and the market — and that’s not just for a big company or a small company. Think about what’s happening in the industry. There is so much demand for talent. In the U.S. alone, by 2020, a million more software jobs will be needed. By 2022, over 2 million cybersecurity jobs will be vacant. If you’re a big company, a midsize company or a small company, you still need talent.
In addition, there’s fierce competition for talent in today’s market; every company is a tech company and the disruptors are disrupting every type of company, big and small. I think companies will need to ensure a first-rate, personalized experience in the way people apply, how companies engage with people, how you onboard people, how candidates and employee receive feedback, and how you collaborate with one another. That experience will need to be real and will need to be personalized for every individual. Otherwise, companies don’t have a chance.
Then, at the same time, once you attract and build these relationships with these people, and once they’re on board, companies need to think about how to retain them so another company doesn’t entice them to join their company, or lose them to a startup. Engagement needs to be very personalized. When you think about where we’re headed, you need to solve for problems now, before they occur, and that needs to be a focus for any company because we are living through an outcome-solution era.
Healthcare organizations have traditionally focused on their operational systems, leaving talent acquisition and management to take a back seat.
But the massive talent shortage in health care has made that an untenable path for health care employers. Now, many are looking for new tools to help them find and retain talent for critical roles.
To find out more about how health care employers are using technology to meet these demands, we spoke with David Pumpelly, Avature’s vice president of enterprise talent solutions. Here’s his take on what’s happening in the industry, based on his experience working in health care for 15 years.
Building the Pipeline Earlier Than Ever
Competitive healthcare companies are now taking their recruitment efforts to the university level, Pumpelly says. They might establish contact with a first-year physical therapy student, then develop the relationship over the next two or three years of their training. When that candidate is finally qualified to enter the workforce, that company is top of mind.
That early stage engagement is where digital tools have the most potential to disrupt the status quo, he notes.
Consider the contrast from the perspective of a student or new health care professional attending a job fair. At one booth, they’re asked to fill out paperwork with clipboards and those little pencils. At the next, they provide their contact info via an iPad or QR code. Then this is followed up with regular communications: newsletters, meetups, an invitation to a student talent community or career website administered by the recruiter.
“Digital disruption in talent acquisition is all about creating lasting candidate experiences that accompany them throughout their education journey, so the health care recruiter has the best chance of winning them,” Pumpelly says.
Creating New Spaces for Flexibility
The same technology shift is also affecting the existing talent paradigm. Contingent workforces have become a crucial component of how most medical organizations deliver health care. It’s due in part to the demand for care, but also because more health care workers, especially younger ones, prefer to work on a contract basis to maximize flexibility.
Since the recruitment process for most companies focuses on permanent hires, it often does not lead to the most positive experience for contingent workers. Avature helps them use digital tools to make the process smoother, such as onboarding checks for credentials, background, communicable disease and JCAHO compliance.
“The question is, how do I create a better experience for those workers who are more inclined to work on a contract basis?” Pumpelly says. “Don’t just focus on permanent talent, but look for the right ecosystem with workforce planning that takes both pools into account.”
Creating New Paths for Internal Mobility
Another challenge comes with internal mobility. Different departments within a large health care organization may not communicate with each other or use different systems to keep track of their employees’ information. This creates barriers when health care talent wants to make a move.
If you don’t create opportunities within the company, the organization will experience a talent drain, he says. Technology helps understand the employee population: who they are, how long have they worked in their current positions, how have they performed, whether they are willing or desire to relocate.
The new thinking is to take CRM tools for outside recruitment and apply them to existing talent. The best healthcare companies will be able to easily accept data from other systems, and be able to truly understand and segment their employee population, Pumpelly says.
Performance management is also going through drastic changes. The old days of the Jack Welch General Electric-style annual performance review with ranked scores is quickly fading. Millennials in particular feel demeaned by this process. Now, performance management is about continuous, ongoing coaching that seeks to provide feedback in multiple directions, he says
Technology tools now allow employees to do self-analysis and solicit or receive coaching on mobile devices. Automated reminders let managers know when a check-in is due.
The delivery of health care is constantly and rapidly changing, and technology is the key to having the edge on the competition for top healthcare talent.
The technology industry has taken strides to create more inclusive and diverse workplaces in recent years but still has much room for improvement, says Candice Morgan, the head of inclusion and diversity at Pinterest.
Over the past several years, Morgan and Pinterest have been a visible force in the tech industry’s efforts to hire more women and underrepresented minorities. The company was one of the first tech firms to publicly share statistics about the makeup of its workforce, and it made headlines in 2015 when co-founder Evan Sharp set public hiring goals for increasing diversity. Morgan joined Pinterest in 2016 and continues to lead the company’s efforts to build a more inclusive and diverse organization in a period of rapid growth.
Before joining Pinterest, Morgan spent nearly a decade as a consultant with the nonprofit Catalyst, based in New York and Zurich, where she shaped inclusive work cultures by designing and implementing strategic talent initiatives for global companies and firms in industries including finance, consumer goods, technology and health care.
We spoke with her about how Pinterest is innovating in the recruiting and talent-development spaces, the state of diversity efforts in the tech industry, and what she’ll be sharing at UNLEASH America in Las Vegas.
What are you going to be discussing at UNLEASH in May?
I’ll be talking about innovative ways to find and grow new talent. I lead inclusion and diversity at Pinterest, and we’ve had to get really creative about finding new sources of talent and connecting people with access to the tech industry. Then, once people join the company, we’ve had to be creative in terms of giving them opportunities to grow their careers.
I’m first going to talk about some of the things that we’ve created to expand the pool of talent. One of the things is an apprenticeship program that we built for people in software engineering who don’t have a traditional tech background or don’t have a four-year computer science degree. Maybe they’re self-taught or perhaps they’ve gone to a boot camp. We bring them into the software engineering organization, and they work on the same projects any full-time entry-level software engineer would. They have a mentor engineer who spends up to 50 percent of their time with that individual, as they prepare to convert to an entry-level software engineer.
It’s been really amazing for us because we have people with experience in other industries before moving into software engineering, so they bring this sensibility, this maturity, and they bring transferable skills. We’ve had architects, economists and people from finance — people from very different backgrounds.
Another piece that we’re going to talk about in this session is how we give people career-development opportunities. Pinterest’s inclusion and diversity team has built up a number of internal programs, such as our employee communities — they’re also known as employee resource groups at other companies — and we offer the opportunity to lead those employee communities as a leadership-development opportunity. Those people work with executive sponsors who report to our CEO, and they get coaching on strategies, organize programs and do other innovative things like create mentorship opportunities.
This session will really explore how we’ve architected inclusive ways to both find new talent and grow existing talent.
Is that type of apprenticeship program something that’s representative of a tech industry trend?
It’s not typical. There are some tech companies that are starting additional apprenticeship programs, but they’re few and far between. Most are in their experimentation phase, so many of them are not yet up and running, but the more of these programs the better. We are actually on our fourth cohort in our third year of doing this, because we’ve found something that really works.
How do your diversity goals intersect with your approach to recruiting, especially at a company that has had unique challenges rapidly scaling?
When I joined we were 700 people — now we’re twice that size. I spend up to 40 percent of my time working with the recruiting team. It’s really critical that I work very closely with the head of recruiting on making sure that every single recruiter understands there are certain areas where a diverse workforce is important, and that we can’t have slates where we’re bringing in people in the interview that don’t include forms of diversity. It’s not one person’s job. It’s certainly not just my team’s job.
My team’s role is to provide accountability for diversity and inclusion, to influence and to help people recognize when we’re not on track and also to choose the best strategy to accelerate progress. But it’s ultimately each individual recruiter and each individual hiring manager and the loop of other business managers on their team that are making the hiring decisions.
That has included training for hiring managers, training for our recruiting team on inclusion, how to source workers and candidates with more diverse backgrounds, going to different schools as part of our university recruiting program, and really looking at the diversity of the graduating classes at the school that we go to and saying, “Does this still make sense from our creative perspective? Are we supporting the differences in ideas that truly innovate?” — because that’s where the research shows there’s an advantage for diversity. It’s in the innovation and creativity part of team problem solving.
How does diversity improve the performance of an organization?
Diverse teams are better at innovative ideas and solving challenging problems. This is because we don’t assume the group thinks alike, and are instead more thoughtful in presenting ideas and solutions. For Pinterest, it’s also a must to build a product that people of all backgrounds can use to discover and do things they love. Recently, our team debuted a feature for users of all skin tones to find relevant ideas. This was the result of a cross-functional team — inclusion and diversity, engineers, product managers, researchers, legal, and of course our diverse users.
What changes have you seen since as a result of these efforts?
When it comes to hiring, we have seen success in programs such as Pinterest Apprenticeship, where we have to date converted all transitioning engineers with non-traditional backgrounds to full-time software engineers. We have also grown underrepresented ethnic groups at Pinterest from 3 percent to 9 percent of the company, and women executives in the C-suite from 13 percent to 38 percent.
With inclusion, we constantly monitor the retention and engagement NPS scores of underrepresented populations. We have seen a direct correlation between growth of our employee resource group participation, executive visibility and positive engagement.
Did you run into any challenges with putting this in place? What did it take to overcome them?
There are many challenges and we have not overcome them all. Part of the challenge is ensuring not only HR/recruiters are accountable, but so are business managers — particularly mid-level managers that do most of the hiring and have the most impact on an employee’s day-to-day experience. Two things must be done: First constant communication from the executive team on why this is important, what we’re doing, and what the individual manager can do. Second, accountability mechanisms like goals/KPIs help increase ownership across the business.
How has diversity in tech progressed overall since you’ve been a part of the industry?
In 2014 we started to see some companies releasing their data. We released some of our data as early as 2013. We saw really large tech companies, like Google and Facebook, releasing their data, and that was a major step toward change.
I feel that in the past two years, a couple of things have changed the conversation. One, with the presidential election and the level of division that exists across the country, and within companies, the conversations that were previously never held at work are now happening, and have to be acknowledged in a way. When people feel like aspects of their identity are being threatened — whether they’re conservative and can’t express that or they’re from a marginalized group that they feel is in jeopardy given political policies — we do have to sometimes address those in a more public forum. That’s something that has changed.
The #MeToo movement and the sexual harassment lawsuits have been remarkable and have really affected many tech companies. We have a people experience team here at Pinterest that actually helps employees guide and navigate different types of grievances. That’s a really important part of the discussion too.
I will say, though, in addition to all of those conversations, there’s still fatigue around diversity at the same time, which seems kind of ironic. Given all the different subtexts around which diversity is coming up, there’s fatigue around the hiring conversation of diversity. However, it’s been a very slow pace at which we’ve started to diversify tech companies. Less than 10 percent of the population at these tech companies are from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds, and even fewer in engineering. Even though there’s a lot more fatigue and there are a lot more people who are talking about reverse discrimination, the numbers are still not at the critical mass. I think all those things influence this very nuanced, complex conversation.