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Diversity and inclusion

How Slack is Doing Diversity and Inclusivity Right

Tobias Hardy

How Slack is Doing Diversity and Inclusivity Right

slack-large.pngHow has Slack achieved so much success in just the last two years? It may have something to do with its inclusive culture and corporate attitude towards diversity.

Slack is growing at a breakneck pace and shows no signs of stopping. Only two years old, the business chat and productivity tool boasts 2.3 million daily users, 675,000 of whom opt for the paid model, according to the LA Times

The startup itself has mushroomed to 369 employees – it has outgrown its office space three times thus far, and plans to do so again in six months. And this February, founder Stewart Butterfield tweeted that 20% of all their users started using Slack in 2016, further illustrating the exponential growth.

But Slack isn’t just posting unparalleled growth in its user base. According to a company release regarding employee demographics, Slack now employs the highest percentage of female and black engineers of any tech company. Could this focus on diversity be the real key to the company’s incredible accomplishments?

Diversity & Inclusion for Success

It certainly seems like it. Slack’s diverse makeup has resulted in innovations to their software that might have been overlooked by a more homogeneous team – for example, when developer Diógenes Brito created the “Add To Slack” button, which featured a brown hand. That tiny, but significant design choice resulted in a resoundingly approving response on Twitter and beyond. 

This kind of positive exposure is invaluable in attracting new and diverse talent, who look for solid evidence of a company that goes the extra mile to ensure an inclusive workplace. Slack is undeniably that company – even their personnel structure is constructed with diverse hiring in mind.

Notably, Slack does not have an official Diversity and Inclusion VP, unlike many other tech companies like Apple and Twitter. Erica Baker, whose role has evolved to include some of these responsibilities but is still primarily an engineer, points out that having a designated appointment for this aspect of HR can actually be a hurdle for diverse hiring practices other recruitment staff. 

“When the VP of Engineering is thinking about hiring goals for the year, they are not going to concern themselves with the goals of the VP of Diversity and Inclusion,” she says. “They are going to say ‘hiring more engineers is my job, worrying about the diversity of who I hire is the job of the VP of Diversity and Inclusion.’” 

Furthermore, Baker believes that the party ultimately responsible for a company’s efforts is the person at the very top. 

“Diversity and Inclusion should be a priority for all employees, but the person who leads the efforts and holds people accountable should be nobody but the CEO. Of course there should be others on the Diversity and Inclusion team, but the leader should be the CEO. If you’ve never worked in a corporate office with a CEO or been around or near when the CEO says they want something done, I’ll tell you what happens: people move.”

Positive Movement Forward

Slack is certainly moving quickly – and despite its massive success, the company still strives to improve diversity at the highest levels. That said, it must be noted that it still doesn’t have any underrepresented minorities in leadership roles within the engineering, product, or design departments.  

However, Slack has been very public about its shortcomings, and the company is planning to interview at least one minority candidate for every leadership vacancy in the coming months, known as the Rooney Rule, according to Fast Company

By working proactively to develop a holistic, bias-free recruitment process, Slack has built a formidable team from the ground up. Their success strongly supports research that diversity leads to a higher-functioning organization. The Chicago Tribune explains how Butterfield has the final word on why diversity is essential for a competitive workplaces: "If you're not hiring from some groups of the population then you're obviously missing out."

(Main image credit: jeshoots.com/Pexels)

Tobias Hardy

Tobias is a HR professional passionate about performance through engagement. He advises organisations on all aspects of recruitment process design with a particular focus on using technology to measure and overcome unconscious bias.