Ellen Pao, Tracy Chou and others pressure Silicon Valley on its diversity efforts

A group of eight notable women in tech, including Ellen Pao, the former CEO of Reddit, are trying to turn up the pressure on companies with their own roadmap for diversity.

On Tuesday, the group, which includes Tracy Chou, a software engineer at Pinterest and Erica Joy Baker, an engineer at Slackunveiled what they are billing as the first ever practical handbook aimed for small and medium-size tech firms for creating a tech workplace for women of all backgrounds.

The group aims for 18 companies to sign on initially and plans to collect data and anonymously share among startups, the New York Times reported.

Dubbed “Project Include,” the handbook includes a list of elements that a small company might need to build a diverse and inclusive workplace culture from the start. Some topics include “How to define culture,” “The Employee Life cycle” and “Resolving conflict.”

In some ways, Project Include reads like the human resource manual that Pao had wished Kleiner Perkins had had when she worked there. Pao unsuccessfully sued Kleiner for gender discrimination. Among Pao’s complaints was the lack of human resource policies at the venerable venture firm. Here are some of Project Includes recommendations:

  • Understand how performance reviews can be biased.
  • Avoid biases that influence promotion and bonus decisions.
  • Account for power dynamics (under resolving conflicts).
  • Base your HR strategy on inclusion, not protection from legal liability.

Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at the Kapor Center of Social Impact, which gives young underrepresented minorities tech training, among other things, and part of the group, told me that in the two years since companies began disclosing their workforce demographics, little has changed.

Companies tend to check the diversity box, do one-off training, give money to a non-profit focused on the tech talent pipeline, and move on. In some cases, this is doing some harm, by allowing company leaders to think that they do not have a problem when they still do, she said.

Worse, creating a diverse workforce may be a casualty of a tougher economic climate, as it has been in the past. Tech startups, struggling to get their next cash infusion, are laying off workers and making other cuts.

“The diversity budget is easy to cut,” said Klein. “There’s a perception among the C-suites that we need to pay attention to diversity when there is fierce competition for talent. We are telling startups, ‘Take it seriously now. it will be much harder to do it later.’ ”

Above: Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit and former partner at Kleiner Perkins. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Eddie Poe

    I think having Pao as a front for this might hurt the credibility of the program.

  • view2share

    Hire those which can and fire those which cannot. A quota system is not going to improve the tech world. Only people getting ahead will be the lawyers, and a few hired to fill newly created diversity departments. How will this improve the bottom line for the company, and give the world better software and technology — it won’t. This is discrimination in hiring based two factors not related to job performance, which by law, I thought could not be used in the hiring process — how does that work?

  • Ross

    Project Include otherwise known as Pao’s handbook of policies that you should adopt so she can successfully sue you next time.

  • observer

    Meanwhile, we need more female drywall hangers, rough carpenters, warehouse workers, forklift operators, truck drivers, roofers and wastewater treatment plant operators. I’m still waiting for an all-female landscape crew to come in and mow the grass, trim the edges and cut the brush. Not to mention the plowing and salting in the winter.

    Why just tech??

    Oh, and did I mention asphalt spreading??

    • observer

      Or maybe just ask some male tech workers to self-identify as trans-female. That way we kill two birds with one stone.

  • Ekul1021

    What happen to the “get the skils and certification” and you “might” be considered for the position? Unless the person produce a degree/experience, the why bother hiring someone just because you want the company to have multi-race employee?