In an effort to track and address issues of diversity, eight women working in Silicon Valley have banded together to affect meaningful change.
The body of research quantifying the many benefits of diversity in the workplace continues to grow, such as from McKinsey, as does awareness surrounding the issue — yet progress is being made at a glacial pace. In early May, a group of women working at high profile companies and startups in Silicon Valley launched a nonprofit venture aiming to change that, according to the New York Times.
The initiative, called Project Include, aims to make “inclusive, comprehensive, and measurable” change in the tech industry by “providing a community to share frameworks, research, and recommendations that can immediately benefit startup CEOs and employees.”
In recent years, Ellen Pao made headlines by taking her former employee, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to court over accusations of discrimination, as the New York Times reports. Pao put the spotlight on diversity in tech, sparking international conversations about the issue and championing reform. Working tirelessly to level the playing field in the tech world and beyond, Pao reached out to Erica Baker with the budding idea for Project Include.
Baker, who currently works at Slack, caused a stir during her time at Google by making a spreadsheet into which Google employees could enter their salary information, according to Recode. The report revealed stark differences in pay between men and women doing the exact same job. Google’s management team was, needless to say, not pleased with this public revelation. In retaliation, they withheld Baker’s peer bonuses (small cash rewards co-workers can gift to their peers for great ideas).
Once Baker introduced Ellen Pao to Y-Vonne Hutchinson, who works at the diversity consulting firm ReadySet, the Project Include team began to take shape. Other founding members include Bethanye McKinney Blount, whom Pao knew through their time together at Reddit; entrepreneur Laura I. Gómez, who founded the startup Atipica, a service that leverages data and analytics for applicant databases to improve diversity in the hiring process; Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest; Kapor Center partner Freada Kapor Klein; and Susan Wu of Stripe, a mobile payments startup.
The prominence of these eight women within the entrepreneurial realm makes Project Include one of the most visible diversity initiatives to date. The group has focussed on garnering initial commitment from 18 companies to track the diversity of their respective workforces, and plans to make that data available to other startups in the near future.
The women hope that their research-based recommendations to the CEOs and management of tech startups will accelerate the implementation of D&I solutions, ultimately resulting in company wide strategic change.
These industry leaders will meet regularly over the course of seven months to further hone their D&I initiatives and metrics, with the goal of eventually publishing the data to publicly demonstrate which specific efforts are (or are not) progressing.
Diversity in Tech Today
The project comes at a critical time. Despite major companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook openly posting diversity numbers and admitting their shortcomings, according to the New York Times, little measurable progress is being made. Venture capitalist Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital said his firm, which has no female investment partners in the United States (79% of VC firms have never appointed a woman to represent them on their board, as Wired explains), would work to hire more women but not “lower its standards” in the process.
The idea that these firms and companies operate purely as meritocracies ignores the fact that, growing up, certain demographics have far less access to tech training programmes than others, placing them at a significant disadvantage that has little or no bearing on their actual aptitude.
Interestingly, women are far more likely to be hired as programmers and engineers when employers use a blind audition, according to Harvard Business Review. By emphasising a focus on hard data rather than gut instinct, programmes like Project Include are aiming to correct the glaring inequities that still plague the tech industry today.
(Image credit: Christopher Michel/flickr)