Ellen Pao on Solving Tech’s Diversity Challenges
Managed by Q was honored to host Ellen Pao and a panel of business and community leaders who are working to create a more just, equitable and diverse technology industry. Pao, who recently released her book Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, joined Natalia Oberti Noguera, Founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, for a discussion about her experiences advocating for greater diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.
Inclusion means everybody
Pao began by speaking about how important the work of Project Include has been to her. Project Include is a non-profit that uses data and advocacy to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry, which Pao founded in 2016. There are three values that guide Project Include: inclusion, comprehensiveness, and accountability. Pao noted that it is crucial that CEOs adopt each value to truly build a diverse and inclusive company.
Inclusion, she explained, “is about everyone. It’s not just about women. It’s about making sure that we’re making things fair for people from different races, different ethnicities, different ages, different sexual orientations, different levels of abilities, different religions.” Her definition of inclusivity also includes understanding intersectionality, the idea that people occupy multiple identity locations and, if they are part of multiple underrepresented groups, face unique forms of bias. According to Pao, inclusive companies are places where everyone can succeed and belong.
A comprehensive and accountable approach to diversity and inclusion, she emphasized, “is not about doing a 90 minute bias training and saying everything is good. It’s not about putting out a press release and sharing diversity statistics. It’s not about doing a big donation to a non profit. It’s about really changing your culture and making a plan that’s comprehensive.” This includes ensuring your hiring, pay, and promotion processes are fair and that people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to advance.
Pao also shared practical advice for building inclusion into the day-to-day life of a company. “When you have a panel, make sure the speakers have different backgrounds. When you have an All Hands meeting, make sure people from different backgrounds are a part of that. When you have a project, make sure you have diverse voices who can participate in that project, so you end up with the best product that all of the users and potential users can enjoy.”
The tech industry needs a dramatic change
While Pao’s trial garnered high-profile press coverage and raised many questions about diversity and inclusion in the tech industry, Pao reminded the audience that people sharing their stories of discrimination are not doing it for fame, but because they want to make tech a better place and help others who may be in a similar situation. She went on to say, “I hope that people don’t forget that we need to change, we need huge dramatic change because we are right now stuck in a place where only certain people can succeed.”
Reset includes many tangible examples of how discrimination occurs in the tech industry and practical ideas of how to combat it. But creating a diverse and inclusive culture is not always a smooth process, and companies and leaders will make mistakes along the way. Oberti Noguera asked Pao what her “best mistake” was.
She spoke about when she was the CEO of Reddit, she made the decision to consolidate the company’s three offices into one headquarters to focus on strengthening the culture and company. “When we brought everyone together, we realized that these cultures were broken. It was a heavy drinking culture, full of harassment and inappropriate behavior,” Pao explained. This brought up an issue for her and the leadership team, “We didn’t want to have a zero tolerance policy. We decided we were going to give people one chance.” Pao brought in Mitch and Freada Kapor to discuss the importance of a diverse, harassment-free workplace. Ellen explained, “Now they they knew that that specific behavior is not acceptable, they had one chance to stop it. It was a terrible experience, but it was something we thought was fair and successful,” she explained.
Finally, Pao spoke about how to continue to move forward with your career when you know disrupting a culture and pushing for diversity and inclusion takes time. Discrimination is systematic, she explained, so individuals from underrepresented backgrounds in tech need to think about the ways they can be successful and ensure their companies and managers are giving them the opportunity to succeed.
Diversity is a process
We were also joined by Merary Soto, VP of People & Culture at Andela; Kerri Faber, VP of Human Resources at Rubicon Global; Jukay Hsu, Founder and CEO at Coalition for Queens; Camille Hearst, CEO at Kit, and Natalia Oberti Noguera, who spoke on a panel moderated by Erin Griffith of WIRED. Each shared actionable strategies they are using in their companies to create an inclusive environment and build a more diverse tech industry.
Merary Soto of Andela emphasized the importance of management training around diversity and inclusion that goes beyond anti-bias training and teaches leaders and their teams what diversity really means for their company. “[Diversity] is not something that happens organically,” she explained, “It takes intention and deeper conversations than some people are ready to have. People focus on what’s the data, where are our numbers versus what this actually means to you and why this is important for us as an organization.”
Natalia Oberti Noguera added that often companies that strive to be more diverse, but do not make diverse hires, talk about how they want the “best talent.” “It’s not talking about lowering the bar,” she said, “we need to change the conversations about raising the bar. We want to talk about getting more voices in the room, which means we’re bringing in more talent.” She suggested for those hiring to, “Ask questions on why this person may write a stronger resume and see why this other person might not. Continue to ask questions to diver deeper into that individual’s skillset.”
Jukay Hsu of Coalition for Queens also emphasized an intersectional approach that takes economic backgrounds into account. “Who has access as technology changes rapidly in different sectors?” he asked. The tech community needs to think about how to service and increase educational opportunities for underprivileged communities and those in poverty. “What’s the responsibility of employers to help create those engines of economic mobility?” he asked and pointed out that companies can change their structure to create more economic mobility for their employees.
Kerri Faber explained that a diverse culture has strengthened Rubicon Global and that work goes beyond diversity initiatives. “It’s not just me spearheading one initiative or saying ‘this is what we need to do,’ but it’s ultimately creating that inclusive environment and saying how do we solve this problem together. So it starts with challenging conversations but leads to better results in the end.”
For Camille Hearst who heads up growing startup Kit, diversity is a cornerstone of the company’s identity, not an extra responsibility. “For us, there’s no either or, it’s who we are. It’s the right thing to do and it makes sense from a hiring and retention standpoint. We view it as a competitive advantage.” She said that before launching the product, the company concentrated on their mission and values asking, “What kind of company do we want this to be? How do we want to treat people? How do we want to behave?”
Building a diverse company and industry means creating an environment where difficult and honest conversations can happen and real change can occur. As Ellen Pao and the panelists explained, it’s not just the right thing to do, but good business.