Pinterest’s Candice Morgan on Creating Diverse Career Pathways in Tech

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The technology industry has taken strides to create more inclusive and diverse workplaces in recent years but still has much room for improvement, says Candice Morgan, the head of inclusion and diversity at Pinterest.

Over the past several years, Morgan and Pinterest have been a visible force in the tech industry’s efforts to hire more women and underrepresented minorities. The company was one of the first tech firms to publicly share statistics about the makeup of its workforce, and it made headlines in 2015 when co-founder Evan Sharp set public hiring goals for increasing diversity. Morgan joined Pinterest in 2016 and continues to lead the company’s efforts to build a more inclusive and diverse organization in a period of rapid growth.

Before joining Pinterest, Morgan spent nearly a decade as a consultant with the nonprofit Catalyst, based in New York and Zurich, where she shaped inclusive work cultures by designing and implementing strategic talent initiatives for global companies and firms in industries including finance, consumer goods, technology and health care.

We spoke with her about how Pinterest is innovating in the recruiting and talent-development spaces, the state of diversity efforts in the tech industry, and what she’ll be sharing at UNLEASH America in Las Vegas.

What are you going to be discussing at UNLEASH in May?

I’ll be talking about innovative ways to find and grow new talent. I lead inclusion and diversity at Pinterest, and we’ve had to get really creative about finding new sources of talent and connecting people with access to the tech industry. Then, once people join the company, we’ve had to be creative in terms of giving them opportunities to grow their careers.

I’m first going to talk about some of the things that we’ve created to expand the pool of talent. One of the things is an apprenticeship program that we built for people in software engineering who don’t have a traditional tech background or don’t have a four-year computer science degree. Maybe they’re self-taught or perhaps they’ve gone to a boot camp. We bring them into the software engineering organization, and they work on the same projects any full-time entry-level software engineer would. They have a mentor engineer who spends up to 50 percent of their time with that individual, as they prepare to convert to an entry-level software engineer.

It’s been really amazing for us because we have people with experience in other industries before moving into software engineering, so they bring this sensibility, this maturity, and they bring transferable skills. We’ve had architects, economists and people from finance — people from very different backgrounds.

Another piece that we’re going to talk about in this session is how we give people career-development opportunities. Pinterest’s inclusion and diversity team has built up a number of internal programs, such as our employee communities — they’re also known as employee resource groups at other companies — and we offer the opportunity to lead those employee communities as a leadership-development opportunity. Those people work with executive sponsors who report to our CEO, and they get coaching on strategies, organize programs and do other innovative things like create mentorship opportunities.

This session will really explore how we’ve architected inclusive ways to both find new talent and grow existing talent.

Is that type of apprenticeship program something that’s representative of a tech industry trend?

It’s not typical. There are some tech companies that are starting additional apprenticeship programs, but they’re few and far between. Most are in their experimentation phase, so many of them are not yet up and running, but the more of these programs the better. We are actually on our fourth cohort in our third year of doing this, because we’ve found something that really works.

How do your diversity goals intersect with your approach to recruiting, especially at a company that has had unique challenges rapidly scaling?

When I joined we were 700 people — now we’re twice that size. I spend up to 40 percent of my time working with the recruiting team. It’s really critical that I work very closely with the head of recruiting on making sure that every single recruiter understands there are certain areas where a diverse workforce is important, and that we can’t have slates where we’re bringing in people in the interview that don’t include forms of diversity. It’s not one person’s job. It’s certainly not just my team’s job.

My team’s role is to provide accountability for diversity and inclusion, to influence and to help people recognize when we’re not on track and also to choose the best strategy to accelerate progress. But it’s ultimately each individual recruiter and each individual hiring manager and the loop of other business managers on their team that are making the hiring decisions.

That has included training for hiring managers, training for our recruiting team on inclusion, how to source workers and candidates with more diverse backgrounds, going to different schools as part of our university recruiting program, and really looking at the diversity of the graduating classes at the school that we go to and saying, “Does this still make sense from our creative perspective? Are we supporting the differences in ideas that truly innovate?” — because that’s where the research shows there’s an advantage for diversity. It’s in the innovation and creativity part of team problem solving.

How does diversity improve the performance of an organization?

Diverse teams are better at innovative ideas and solving challenging problems. This is because we don’t assume the group thinks alike, and are instead more thoughtful in presenting ideas and solutions. For Pinterest, it’s also a must to build a product that people of all backgrounds can use to discover and do things they love. Recently, our team debuted a feature for users of all skin tones to find relevant ideas. This was the result of a cross-functional team — inclusion and diversity, engineers, product managers, researchers, legal, and of course our diverse users.

What changes have you seen since as a result of these efforts?

When it comes to hiring, we have seen success in programs such as Pinterest Apprenticeship, where we have to date converted all transitioning engineers with non-traditional backgrounds to full-time software engineers. We have also grown underrepresented ethnic groups at Pinterest from 3 percent to 9 percent of the company, and women executives in the C-suite from 13 percent to 38 percent.

With inclusion, we constantly monitor the retention and engagement NPS scores of underrepresented populations. We have seen a direct correlation between growth of our employee resource group participation, executive visibility and positive engagement.

Did you run into any challenges with putting this in place? What did it take to overcome them?

There are many challenges and we have not overcome them all. Part of the challenge is ensuring not only HR/recruiters are accountable, but so are business managers — particularly mid-level managers that do most of the hiring and have the most impact on an employee’s day-to-day experience. Two things must be done: First constant communication from the executive team on why this is important, what we’re doing, and what the individual manager can do. Second, accountability mechanisms like goals/KPIs help increase ownership across the business.

How has diversity in tech progressed overall since you’ve been a part of the industry?

In 2014 we started to see some companies releasing their data. We released some of our data as early as 2013. We saw really large tech companies, like Google and Facebook, releasing their data, and that was a major step toward change.

I feel that in the past two years, a couple of things have changed the conversation. One, with the presidential election and the level of division that exists across the country, and within companies, the conversations that were previously never held at work are now happening, and have to be acknowledged in a way. When people feel like aspects of their identity are being threatened — whether they’re conservative and can’t express that or they’re from a marginalized group that they feel is in jeopardy given political policies — we do have to sometimes address those in a more public forum. That’s something that has changed.

The #MeToo movement and the sexual harassment lawsuits have been remarkable and have really affected many tech companies. We have a people experience team here at Pinterest that actually helps employees guide and navigate different types of grievances. That’s a really important part of the discussion too.

I will say, though, in addition to all of those conversations, there’s still fatigue around diversity at the same time, which seems kind of ironic. Given all the different subtexts around which diversity is coming up, there’s fatigue around the hiring conversation of diversity. However, it’s been a very slow pace at which we’ve started to diversify tech companies. Less than 10 percent of the population at these tech companies are from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds, and even fewer in engineering. Even though there’s a lot more fatigue and there are a lot more people who are talking about reverse discrimination, the numbers are still not at the critical mass. I think all those things influence this very nuanced, complex conversation.

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