Pinterest Points the Way as Silicon Valley Grapples With Diversity
Silicon Valley has a diversity problem. But recently, some quarters of the tech industry have warmed to discussing the problem openly. Major tech companies—including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon—have gone public with reports detailing employee demographics. And increasingly, tech companies have begun tasking one executive to lead the charge on addressing the issue.
Today the scrapbooking social network Pinterest joined the ranks of high-profile tech companies that are bringing the issue into the C-suite. The company announced it hired Candice Morgan, who spent nearly a decade at New York-based Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit that helps build more inclusive workplace cultures, as its first head of diversity.
But Pinterest isn’t playing catchup. The company, reportedly valued at $11 billion, has established itself as a leader in consciously confronting Silicon Valley’s monoculture. Pinterest software engineer Tracy Chou is one of the most visible advocates for diversity in tech and was instrumental in pushing tech companies to release their diversity numbers. In July, Pinterest announced specific goals and programs to improve inclusiveness at the company. It’s aiming for its pool of newly hired engineers to include 30 percent women and draw at least 8 percent from underrepresented minorities—still a major imbalance, but a significant improvement on tech’s prevailing demographics.
Morgan says she plans to work on clearly defining the criteria for successful job candidates. “The less you fill in, the more people rely on their automatic assumptions and gravitate towards people that might be similar to them, or kind of fill in the blanks,” she tells WIRED. “The idea is to really get things down on paper—to agree on what a great software engineer or product engineer looks like.”
Morgan says the company first contacted her about the opportunity last September. “The company’s been very flexible and humble about what’s been working and isn’t working,” she says.
A Major Misconception
Pinterest’s announcement comes as tech on the whole has faced increasing scrutiny over its lack of representation. Even as companies have more publicly addressed diversity in recent months, some have argued that a mere pledge to address the problem can be a fairly easy way for companies to gain good publicity without enacting real change. Last week, Twitter announced its own new VP of diversity and inclusion, Jeffery Siminoff, an ex-Apple executive, but came under fire for what some viewed as a missed opportunity in adding one more member to its overwhelmingly white and male leadership.
Along with hiring Morgan, Pinterest also announced two new diversity initiatives today: an apprenticeship program for three candidates from non-traditional tech backgrounds, such as coding bootcamps; and an engineering internship for college first-years. Both offer paths towards employment at the company.
Morgan sees a major misperception in the tech industry that those looking to hire diverse candidates must relax their technical standards. Candidates who are eager to do great work “want to be tested and tried in the same way” that anyone else at the company would be tried and tested, she says. “For me, hiring a ‘qualified’ candidate just means making sure the person you’re looking to bring in has the skills to meet and exceed the requirements for the job,” says Morgan, adding that many companies often use criteria—like hiring from specific universities—that have nothing to do with actual ability.
“The goal of diversity is to create a true meritocracy,” says Morgan. “The entire point is to remove factors that have nothing to do with somebody’s skills in evaluating if they’re ready to take a job or excel or advance.”
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