Following in the footsteps of so many others, Silicon Valley darling Slack, which makes a much-loved chat app for businesses, released its first diversity report today. Also following in the footsteps of so many others in tech, the results aren’t good: A vast majority of Slack’s employees—70 percent—are white. And 61 percent of the company is male.
Still, you have to give Slack some credit. The company at least appears to be trying, and trying from the start instead of waiting years or decades into its existence to recognize that diversity is a serious issue. “It’s relatively easy for us to move the lever a small bit right now to make a significant change in our trajectory,” said Anne Toth, vice-president of people and policy, and Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s CEO, in a blog post describing the company’s diversity efforts. “If us doing this sooner rather than later yields a better result that alone will be a good thing for us to have done at Slack and, hopefully, for the industry at large.”
Slack says it made the issue of diversity a priority while the company was still in its infancy, hiring an outside diversity consultant back when it employed only 75 people. It also says it’s begun examining its compensation data to make sure pay gaps don’t exist among its male and female workers. And it is making a concerted effort to be vigilant in its data collection and analysis to make real-time adjustments when recruiting new employees or updating its workplace policies.
Doing Better by Starting Sooner
Today, less than two years after introducing its app to the world, Slack employs about 250 people. And, digging into the numbers, it does appear to be doing better than many other tech companies. Seven percent of its technical workforce is African-American—which is actually saying something in a world where the combined black workforces of Google, Facebook and Twitter can fit on a single jumbo jet. But its overall workforce is still just 4 percent Black. Less than 1 percent of Slack employees, meanwhile, identified as Hispanic or Latino.
And while only 39 percent of workers overall at Slack are women at a time when women outnumber men in the US population, 45 percent of Slack managers are female. The company says that 41 percent of all people working at Slack report to a female manager. That’s way ahead of the industry average of 18 percent, according to data compiled by The Verge. (An interesting tidbit: Erica Baker, the ex-Google employee who tweeted about pay inequality at Google, now works at Slack as an engineer.)
Slack, of course, has much work ahead of it before it achieves true workforce equality. It could stand to make its goals more transparent and hold itself accountable to the public the way Pinterest, Intel, and Twitter have done. Its employees are still overwhelmingly white, and it could stand to hire more women engineers—18 percent of its engineers are female, better than Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft, according to data gathered by The Wall Street Journal, but not as good as Intel (20 percent) and Apple (22 percent).
Still, starting early has its advantages: It means Slack can stay light-footed before it becomes too big to change. Now, it just has to double down and really make those changes.