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LinkedIn’s Diversity Report Shows Room for Improvement

October 18, 2016, 6:27 PM UTC
Inside LinkedIn Corp. Headquarters Ahead Of Earnings Figures
An employee works on a laptop computer at LinkedIn Corp. headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Monday, July 28, 2014. LinkedIn Corp. is scheduled to release earnings figures on July 31. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Increasing ethnic diversity remains a challenge for LinkedIn, according to the company’s latest annual workplace diversity report released Tuesday.

“At LinkedIn, historically, we’ve been focused a lot on gender,” Pat Wadors, the company’s senior vice president of global talent organization told Fortune ahead of the report’s release.

That choice to focus first on getting more women into the workforce shows in the data through the relatively high percentage of women on the payroll and improvement over last year’s annual report. Forty-two percent of the 9,900 jobs at the company are filled by women, virtually unchanged from 2015.

That makes LinkedIn 5 percentage points shy of mirroring the overall U.S. workforce, which is 47% women and 9 percentage points shy of matching U.S. population trends. But LinkedIn’s gender gap is a lot narrower than the tech industry overall — women make up 30% of the workforce at Google and 33% at Facebook.

Although LinkedIn didn’t move the needle for women among its overall workforce, it did make progress getting more of them into executive roles. Thirty-five percent of leadership roles at LinkedIn are held by women, up from 30% last year.

Women now account for two out of every ten tech-focused employees at LinkedIn, up from 18% last year. And in non-tech roles, LinkedIn has surpassed parity, with women in 52% of those roles.

LinkedIn, which launched in early 2003, is a social network geared towards encouraging professional connections. It’s user count now exceeds 400 billion. Microsoft announced in June that it would acquire LinkedIn in a $26.2 billion deal expected to be completed by the end of this year.

But the idea that LinkedIn has made huge strides falls flat with Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a former international labor rights lawyer who founded and is executive director at ReadySet, an Oakland-based diversity solutions firm. She called the company’s newest diversity report disappointing, but not uncommon.

“I think they’re ahead of a lot of tech companies,” Hutchinson said. “They’re a leader in some aspects, like gender, but certainly not all.”

Ethnic diversity among LinkedIn’s U.S. workforce of 6,435, has been slower to improve.


Black and Latino workers occupy 3% and 5% of the roles at LinkedIn in the U.S., respectively, up from 2% and 4% last year. Wadors said that current projections show 5% of LinkedIn’s U.S. workforce will be black by next year.

The company’s single-digit stats mean that it, like many of its tech counterparts, has a lot of room for improvement.

“If they can’t or won’t get it right, then who will? LinkedIn has literally every worker’s bio. That’s an enormous resource,” said Hutchinson. “The multiplier effect is not just limited to positive impact. It can be negative too.”

Black, Latino, and Native American employees make up 30% of the U.S. population, according to Management Leadership for Tomorrow, one of the nonprofits LinkedIn has partnered with to address its overwhelmingly—90%—white and Asian workforce.

Since joining the company in 2013, Wadors has talked openly about struggling to thrive in Silicon Valley because of her introverted personality, and she has created a Quiet Leadership Program at LinkedIn to help those like her.

Wadors, who has dyslexia, also talked about raising a daughter with an intellectual disability. She launched a company-wide survey that allowed employees to self-identify across several categories, including gender, ethnicity, diversity and disability. As a result, today’s report is the first time LinkedIn revealed that 3% of its workforce is made up of people with intellectual disabilities.

“Me, personally, I’m an introvert, a woman—I have dyslexia and a daughter with an intellectual disability and mixed family relations. My niece is mulatto; two of my sisters married black gentlemen,” Wadors said, talking about creating programs to help groups she personally identifies with.

Wadors’ own word choice shows the challenges of discussing workplace diversity. The term “mulatto” comes with some baggage. Originally, it was used to refer to crossbred livestock before becoming a common term during the 18th century to describe people with one white and one black parent. It was even an official U.S. Census race category until 1930.

Today, the more accepted term is “mixed race” or “biracial.”

When Fortune raised these points in an email exchange following the interview with Wador, a LinkedIn spokeswoman dodged the issue.

“There are so many areas where we really have an opportunity to drive progress, in our actions and our words,” Crystal Braswell said in a reply.

Hutchinson, the diversity consultant, said Wador’s word choice shows a lack of expertise that’s undermining the company’s attempts to meaningfully address its lack of diversity.

“I think it’s interesting she talked about focusing on inclusion and the person leading this doesn’t understand the basics of the language you use to refer to groups with different identities,” Hutchinson said. “You’re seeing these blind spots that get passed down from person to organization to product, and all to the detriment of the company.”

This isn’t the only evidence of LinkedIn grappling with the language it uses to talk about diversity. This year the company used the term “Latino” in its report where it previously used “Hispanic.”

“When we created [employee resource groups] to discuss diversity, some employees came to us and said, ‘We don’t call ourselves the hispanic community, we’re Latino,’” Wadors said.

For what it’s worth, the Department of Labor seems unable to make up its mind. The form that companies use to report the ethnicity and gender of their workforce to the federal government uses “Hispanic or Latino,” treating them like separate but related names for one group of people.

Discussions about race have also come up when she wasn’t expecting it, Wadors said.

“I started some round tables last year about being an introvert, and specifically for women,” she said. “What’s interesting is women of color also raised their hand and said, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of similarities to how we struggle to leverage our voice, being heard, being confident and navigating team dynamics.’”

Wadors isn’t alone in making the diversity of LinkedIn’s workforce a priority.

“We look at it and talk about it frequently, if not daily,” she said. “If you look at the number of managers we have and the people who do recruiting for us and the advocates who work on this, I’d say about 90% of our employees have touched this topic or shown a passion around it.”

Today’s report also mentioned changes to the way LinkedIn scouts prospects at college job fairs.

“It’d be great not to have a degree requirement at all for hiring,” Wadors said, referring to the recruiting team’s pledge to prize coding ability over academic pedigree when hiring entry-level tech talent.

Hutchinson said she’s seen those kind of workforce pipeline changes backfire.

LaborX, which caters to nontraditional jobseekers, was running a pilot program with a company that trains people with disadvantaged backgrounds for tech roles.

“The tech company they partnered with hired one person after the pilot,” she said, “and it was the only white guy in the program.”