We’re So Uncomfortable Talking About Diversity, Nothing’s Happening: Ex-Reddit CEO Ellen Pao

We’re So Uncomfortable Talking About Diversity, Nothing’s Happening: Ex-Reddit CEO Ellen Pao

Diversity is an uncomfortable topic of conversation for the tech industry, and while many companies do make some attempt to tackle the issue, not enough is being done. At least, that’s the sentiment from Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit and one part of a new initiative, Project Include.

Project Include is a resource for companies to ensure they’re limiting unconscious bias. It was launched Tuesday in the States by Pao, Slack’s senior engineer Erica Joy Baker, Cathy Labs’ CEO Bethayne McKinney Blount, Pinterest’s software engineer Tracy Chou, Atipica’s CEO Laura I. Gomez, former labour rights lawyer for ReadySet Y-Vonne Hutchinson, partner at Kapor Capital Freada Kapor Klein and entrepreneur Susan Wu.

In a post on publishing site Medium, Pao admitted it’s difficult to implement change, but urged CEOs of tech companies to band together to combat the problem.

“Change is hard, especially around a multidimensional issue like diversity,” she wrote. “It is easy for all of us to become defensive and emotional, to shift the blame to others, and to feel fundamentally unheard or misunderstood. We have a hard-to-change diversity problem in tech in the United States.

It is so uncomfortable for us to talk about the diversity problem that we have not been able to fix it.

It’s not an issue limited to the United States. B&T recently sat down with six senior executive women at ad retargeting company AdRoll to chat diversity.

While none of them had had an instance where their gender got in the way of where they are now, there was an underlying agreement much of the tech industry is dominated by men.

“Why don’t women think they’re qualified for ad tech roles?” was a question bandied around.

To ensure diversity in the company, rather than have quotas the company needs to fill, human resources director Michelle Filo implemented an initiative to have diversity on the hiring panel.

“In the Sydney office we’re very much looking at that diverse mix of recruitment interviewers,” she said. “We have a large range of people from different disciplines that sit on the panel.

“It’s to ensure that whilst you can’t dictate how someone may operate, it’s about building an awareness around our bias. Once we’re aware of it we can make a more educated decision.”

Pao said while start-up companies are attempting to tackle the issue, many are going down pathways that are “potentially harmful”.

“Though startups are making an effort to implement diversity improvement strategies, the reality is that most are taking limited, potentially harmful actions, including one-off training, blaming the pipeline, using language like ‘lowering the bar’ and describing the current state of the tech industry as a ‘meritocracy’,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we have seen tech culture become even more exclusive and less diverse over the last five years.”

Project Include provides seven points companies should adhere to for diversity; Defining culture, implementing culture, employee lifecycle, training, resolving conflicts, measuring progress and leading as VCs.

All the women involved are high-profile in the tech industry, reports The New York Times. Pao certainly made headlines in 2015 when Reddit revolted against her, to the point where she quit.

The issue is close to the hearts of all these women, so much so they’re diving into the Project Include initiative on top of their working outs, says the NYT.


Lead image of Pao via Wikipedia Commons.

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