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Snap's first head of diversity, equity, and inclusion shares the plan she's using to double the number of women and minority employees at the tech giant

  • It's no secret that Silicon Valley has a diversity issue. The tech industry has long been dominated by white males. 
  • When Snap Inc. released its first ever diversity report this year, it showed that women and minorities were seriously underrepresented. 
  • But Oona King, Snap's first vice president of diversity and inclusion, is spearheading the company's efforts to increase diversity at the company.
  • She's aiming to double the number of minorities working at Snap by 2025, and to double the number of women by 2023. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Silicon Valley has long struggled with its reputation as a predominantly white "boys' club," and Snap Inc., the social media company behind Snapchat, Spectacles, and Bitmoji, is no exception.

In July, Snap released a diversity report for the first time in the company's history. The numbers were less than ideal. According to the report, 10.9% of Snap's workforce is Black or Latinx, and 32.9% identify as women.

Earlier this year, former employees told Mashable that they had experienced instances of racial bias. Snap's CEO was recently vocal on this subject. Following the police killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel released a statement calling for structural change in the US to address systematic racism. 

The lack of diversity in tech is hardly exclusive to Snap. At Google, 92.4% of employees are either white or Asian, and their gender breakdown is similar to that of Snap, with 33.2% of staff identifying as women. At Facebook, Black employees make up only 3.9% of staff. 

But the company is quickly ramping up its efforts to diversify the workforce. Last year, Snap hired Oona King as its first ever vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since then, King has been leading the company's approach to diversity in the workplace. 

King knows a thing or two when it comes to paving the way for institutional diversity. She came to Snap after leading diversity strategy at Google and YouTube, and spent 20 years as the second woman of color elected to the UK Parliament. 

"In the tech industry in general, it's no secret that we've failed to improve DEI," King told Business Insider. 

Since she started at Snap, she's been focused on reexamining their approach to diversity at every level of the company. Snap is aiming to double the number of minorities by 2025, and to double the number of women by 2023. 

"A smart DEI strategy drives creative excellence. It drives product excellence. It's in everyone's interest," King said. 

Business Insider spoke with King to get an inside look into how she's been reframing the way Snap approaches diversity in hiring and beyond. Here were her biggest takeaways. 

'There's no silver bullet'

Hiring a a head of DEI is a great first step, but it shouldn't be the only one. Creating true, meaningful change is tough, King said. 

"It's very difficult to drive meaningful change and to bring in groups of the population who have been locked out of the system for decades," King said. "If you think you can do it on the surface level, you will not succeed. There's no silver bullet." 

King's presence at Snap alone isn't enough to effect change at the company – they'll have to totally rethink the way they approach every aspect of company culture.

King said that the company's BIPOC employee resource group, Snap Noir, engages directly with company executives to provide feedback and ideas on cultivating a diverse company culture.

King also cited unconscious bias and allyship training, diverse hiring panels, training management to be aware of unconscious bias, and promoting allyship as important steps. 

"We're really taking this responsibility for improving diversity out of the hands of people like me," King said. "In other words, you can't just expect to hire one person at a company, give them a title, and think that they are going to turn it around for the company." 

Consult the data

Companies won't know how to diversify if they don't know how diverse the company currently is. 

Before this year, Snap had never publicly released its diversity data. CEO Evan Spiegel defended the company's decision to not release diversity numbers in 2019, even though the company has previously distributed diversity figures internally. Spiegel said that releasing the data would reinforce the idea that minorities are underrepresented in tech. 

But circulating diversity figures publicly can help to create accountability. King said that this data is also crucial for companies to develop an appropriate plan. 

"Companies really need to get the data," King said. "When people have a problem about underrepresentation, they immediately think about hiring. But when they're losing women at the same or higher rates, it's like trying to fill a bath with the plug out." 

Examining the data can be a good way for companies to diagnose diversity issues from within, and see where the root problems lie, whether in hiring or staff retention. It also allows company leadership to become more aware of the presence of these issues. 

"You really need the data, and you need to couple that with inspiration," King said. 

Inspire your team 

King said that it's crucial to inspire people to do more when it comes to diversity. 

"You'd expect us to talk about leadership, about accountability – but if you don't inspire people, you lose the magic. Inspiration is the secret sauce," she said. "The murder of George Floyd was a negative inspiration that led many white people to want to personally do something."

She listed the company's participation in the Grace Hopper Celebration, an annual event aimed at getting more women into tech jobs, as one way to inspire people from marginalized groups to get involved in tech. This year, the celebration will take place from September 29 to October 3. 

Practice empathy 

Promoting empathy is also key, King said. 

"We are definitely inspiring empathy, because we strongly feel that people don't understand the lived experience of underrepresented groups," King said.

This is even more important during the pandemic, which King said has placed a disproportionate burden on women. 

King herself had to juggle the responsibilities of work with childcare, and said that women have had to shoulder more childcare responsibilities since the onset of the pandemic. 

"I have four kids, ages 15 down to 6," King said. I can't even express how hard homeschooling for children is, integrated into a full job in the tech industry." 

But King said that Snap has been providing childcare benefits, as well as flexibility for workers with unique circumstances, to allow them to continue working. 

King hopes that the steps Snap is taking toward improving diversity could help other companies take similar action.

"The tech sector can really impact people globally," King said. "Obviously in terms of products, but also in terms of changing what people expect in the workplace."

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