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Diversity Report: Slack struggling with diversity issues

Slack has recently revealed that undervalued minorities began to leave the company at a higher rate than before, highlighting the challenges its management still faces in terms of diversity within its workforce.

Taking a closer look into Slack’s latest Diversity Report, it seems that the company is still a predominantly white workplace, though it has made some small progress regarding underrepresented minorities in U.S. technical and leadership roles.

Published data for 2019 show that while Slack saw incremental increases for women in leadership roles (director level or above) and underrepresented minorities in U.S. technical and leadership roles, it also recorded a decrease of women managers and women in technical roles, as well as a decrease of URMs and LGBTQ managers in the U.S. 

“This is a trend we’re taking very seriously and actively addressing,” the company notes in its Diversity Report.

Fewer women in tech and managerial roles

According to Slack’s Diversity Report, in 2019 women constituted 44.9% of the company’s global workforce, down from 45.8% in 2018.

The report also shows that:

  • 33.4% of people in technical roles were women, down from 34.6% the previous year.
  • 46.1% of managers (employees with direct reports) were women, down from 50.2% the previous year.
  • 29.9% of leadership (director level and above) were women, up from 29.6% the previous year.

women at Slack

Employees from underrepresented groups

When it comes to racial and ethnic representation, 13.9% of Slack’s workforce in the U.S. was composed of people from one or more underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, down slightly down from 14.0% the year.

  • 14.5% of U.S. people in technical roles came from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, up from 14.2% in 2018.
  • 12.1% of U.S. managers were from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, down from 13.0% the previous year.
  • 9.2% of the U.S. leadership team is from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, up from 8.8% the previous year.

Regarding LGBTQ and disability status among the company’s employees, things are not ideal. Slack diversity report shows that 7.6% of U.S. workforce identify as LGBTQ, down from 7.8% last year, while 6% of its U.S. managers identify as LGBTQ, down from 7.8% in 2018. Also, 1.2% of the U.S. workforce identify as having a disability, down from 1.7% last year. 1.5% of the workforce identify as veterans, slightly up from 1.4% in 2018.

Slack overall

Efforts to increase representation

While Slack shares its annual report externally once a year, it says that its efforts to increase representation and inclusion, and its internal communication around these topics, are ongoing throughout the year. 

“We take a holistic approach to building an inclusive and diverse company and culture – from recruiting from a broad and diverse pool of talent, to training managers how to build trust with their teams and manage inclusively, to providing employees with opportunities for career development and mentorship,” the company says.

Slack’s efforts to address diversity issues include developing new programs and improving upon existing ones based on what the company learns from the data. For example, Slack continues its partnership with Year Up, a workforce training program that connects underserved young adults with meaningful career pathways at companies, while it has also launched a Community Incubator program to help new and growing groups thrive.

Investigation into executive over complaints from colored employees

Despite these efforts, a report about a recent event at Slack highlights the challenges the company still faces. ‘The Information’ has learned that Slack investigated into the conduct of one of its vice presidents after more than a half-dozen employees of color lodged complaints with its human resources department accusing the executive, a white man, of preferential treatment toward other white employees.

‘The Information’ notes that this is a particularly sensitive issue for Slack’s CEO, Stewart Butterfield, who has long been a vocal proponent of building a diverse company that includes women and people of color in key leadership roles.

In an interview with TechCrunch back in 2018 Butterfield had recognized that the company is not immune from cultural issues. “We exist in the actual world – if we all agree that this world has some systemic issues, and it’s sexist and it’s racist – that’s not going to stop when people walk into our office,” Butterfield told. “I don’t mean there’s nothing we can do about it. There are things we can do about it, but people are coming in here with their own life experiences.”

Slack does not have a chief diversity officer nor anyone specifically tasked with overseeing diversity and inclusion. The company has considered bringing one on board, but Butterfield said then that he wanted diversity and inclusion to be a “company-wide responsibility that everyone is engaged in.”

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