By Ellen McGirt
April 27, 2017

Yesterday, Slack released its most recent diversity report, and the response has been lukewarm at best. “For all its good intentions, three years later this privately held company used by five million people and valued by investors at nearly $4 billion is not much more diverse than many of its peers,” writes Jessica Guynn of USA Today. “Of its hundreds of employees, relatively few are people of color and, while it has a very strong showing for women in technical and management roles, few women hold leadership roles.”

Since its last report in February 2016, Slack’s workforce has more than doubled, to almost 800 employees across five countries. From that point of view, it does feel like a setback.

A couple of things to think about. There have been some pretty big changes in the way Slack now reports their diversity data. First, they’re now surveying only U.S.-based employees, to remain in compliance with local reporting requirements in other countries. And second, they’re now presenting their data in line with the methods required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It will make apples-to-apples comparisons with other tech companies easier going forward. (Click through for the whole explanation.)

From the report:

Globally, 43.5% of our workforce is comprised of women, unchanged from our last report in February 2016.

  • 48.1% of our managers around the world are women, up from 43% last year.
  • Women make up 29.8% of our Technical organization globally, up from 24.5%, last year.

In the U.S., 11.5% of our workforce is comprised of people from one or more underrepresented racial and/or ethnic groups.²

  • 10.7% of our U.S. managers are from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds.
  • 11.4% of our U.S. Technical³ organization is comprised of people from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic groups.

This year, we’ve looked at LGBTQ and disability status specifically among U.S. employees.

  • 7.8% of our U.S. workforce and 7.6% of our U.S. managers identify as LGBTQ.
  • 1.7% of our U.S. workforce identifies as having a disability.

And they acknowledge that they have more work to do:

We have strong representation of women company wide and in technical roles. However, that representation, and representation of underrepresented racial and/or ethnic groups, declines at more senior levels in the organization. That means we need to cultivate future leaders from these groups over time, and do more to ensure our processes and workplace are fair and equal in opportunity.

Still, I remain optimistic about Slack. Their reporting remains clear and transparent. And, I’ve rarely encountered a start-up executive who gets as consistently high praise from employees on the human side of leadership as does CEO Stewart Butterfield. Here’s just one example, from a raceAhead story from 2016 called “What It’s Like To Be Young, Black and Trying to Make it In Silicon Valley.” It’s a profile of 21-year-old Josuel Musambaghani, then a Slack summer intern. He’d been a two-time Code2040 Fellow, a Google-funded non-profit which is doing a terrific job helping talented young technologists who come from non-traditional talent pools – black and Latino, specifically – succeed in tech. After a rocky start at a different firm, he found a home at Slack.

“I joined Slack because it’s clear that the people at the highest levels, they do care about diversity,” he says. That was affirmed when Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield circulated a memo after the police shootings in Louisiana and Minneapolis, denouncing the events and expressing understanding for anyone who was feeling traumatized. “It was amazing,” he said. “I really feel supported working here.”

But even if they provide a great work experience, there are many reasons why companies are going to struggle with diversity. We need those numbers to help us light the way, so keep ’em coming. As we’re learning from artificial intelligence (see below) when the standing start is a baseline racist world, there is no easy solve. So, in the quest for inclusion, we’re continually betting on the strategies not yet found, the questions still unasked, the zeitgeist coming around the bend. You have to be looking for it to find it.

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