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Pinterest Hires Diversity Chief, Sets Example for Smaller Tech Firms

First Posted: Jan 07, 2016 03:05 PM EST
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Photo : Wikimedia Commons/Pinterest

Silicon Valley has a workforce representation problem, where the norm has been white and Asian men making up most of the staff at all levels of technology companies. Google, Apple, and many other major companies have launched initiatives to improve diversity in their workforces, but this week Pinterest showed even smaller tech firms can take major steps as well.

Pinterest, one of the original unicorn startups of Silicon Valley, made a move towards improving diversity at its company on Wednesday, by announcing it had hired its own diversity chief.

The hire is notable as Pinterest is a relatively small company, compared to the likes of Twitter, Apple, and other tech firms with staff in charge of improving diversity. The social media image scrapbooking company employs a staff of about 700, tiny in comparison with the thousands that other Silicon Valley giants employ.

Pinterest's First Head of Diversity 

On Wednesday, Pinterest announced it had hired Candice Morgan as its first head of diversity.

"Our vision at Pinterest is to build a product that inspires everyone. To make this happen, we need to understand the perspectives and needs of people around the world," wrote the company's co-founder Evan Sharp in a statement picked up by USA Today. "Candice is a critical addition to our vision and will help build the programs and teams we need to reach our creative potential as a company."

Morgan has impressive credentials, as she previously worked for years at Catalyst Inc., a nonprofit in New York that helps create more inclusive workplace cultures.

Speaking to Wired, Morgan says her first goal is to help the company set clear criteria for hiring candidates.

"The less you fill in, the more people rely on their automatic assumptions and gravitate towards people that might be similar to them, or kind of fill in the blanks," said Morgan. "The idea is to really get things down on paper -- to agree on what a great software engineer or product engineer looks like."

What Works to Improve Diversity

Specificity and transparency are important when it comes to improving the makeup of technology companies, as Intel's CEO Brian Kzranich underscored earlier this week when announcing the company had met and exceeded its diversity goals for 2015. At the beginning of 2015, Intel had publicized specific, measurable goals for hiring underrepresented minorities, and created clear-cut strategies to reach them.

Like Intel, Pinterest has been leading the charge for diversity longer than most of the technology industry. Last year, Pinterest also made specific targets for diversity public, announcing that in 2016 it would increase hiring rates for women in full-time engineering roles to 30 percent, increase engineering hires from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds to 8 percent, and increase its non-tech staff who are minorities to 12 percent.

According to its most recent diversity report, Pinterest currently has more women on its staff than most technology companies, but like most Silicon Valley firms, white and Asian men still dominate overall.

Along with hiring Morgan, Pinterest also announced two new programs to increase hiring from underrepresented backgrounds: the Pinterest Apprenticeship Program and Pinterest Engage. The first offers one-year apprenticeships with quarterly hiring reviews to graduates of coding camps. The second program is an eight-week summer internship for college freshmen with technology majors.

With those initiatives underway, Morgan says 2016 is looking like a great year for diversity in the industry. "Right now is a strong time for diversity in technology. Not only are people talking about it, they are focusing the resources and time that is necessary," said Morgan. "It's really refreshing." 

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