If life were a social-sciences experiment, Slack’s workforce, at fewer than 250 employees, would be deemed too small to represent a statistically significant sample. But it’s exactly because the collaboration-software startup is still so comparatively tiny (in headcount if not in valuation) that it felt compelled to follow Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants in going public with its diversity statistics Wednesday.
Because Slack hasn’t yet reached the point where it has tens of thousands of workers on its books, “[i]t is relatively easy for us to move the lever a small bit right now to make a significant change in our trajectory,” CEO Stewart Butterfield and HR chief Anne Toth write in a blog post disclosing the numbers. Indeed, at a conference in May, Butterfield said Slack had recently onboarded more than 10 percent of its workforce in a single day.
Size notwithstanding, Slack otherwise more or less resembles its bigger brethren, which is to say its workforce is largely male and white, and its engineering corps especially so. Only 18 percent of the engineers at Slack are women, and only 11 percent aren’t white or Asian. (Unlike other tech companies that have shared their diversity figures, Slack didn’t lump engineering in with other “technical” jobs like design and product management.)
“Clearly, measurement is important and we have already taken that step,” write Butterfield and Toth, who have been working with an outside firm called Paradigm to shape Slack’s diversity strategy. “But numerical targets present some inherent challenges: what is the goal, if there even is one? Should our workforce represent/reflect the composition of San Francisco? The Bay Area? California? The world? Does that mean there is a point at which we’ve ‘won’? We don’t think so. These reports are not a scoreboard.”
Pinterest, another Paradigm client, did take the unusual step of committing itself to specific diversity targets recently. At Slack, however, the goal for now is both more amorphous and loftier: “We don’t want to be a place where people give up on their ambitions.”