MarketWatch First Take: Pinterest makes public hiring goals in diversity push

Pinterest, one of the first Silicon Valley startups to begin exposing the tech industry’s depressing diversity data, is now going one step further.

Evan Sharp, a Pinterest co-founder, wrote in a blog post Thursday that even though the biggest tech companies are now reporting the data on the diversity of their workforces, it is still not helping solve the problem of the lack of diversity in tech.

“It’s clear not a lot of progress has been made since then,” he wrote.

In a move to fuel further change, the privately held social scrapbooking company announced its hiring goals for 2016, with a few more specifics than other companies have shared to date. Among its top goals is to increase its hiring rates for full-time engineering roles to 30% female, increase hiring for full-time engineers to 8% under-represented ethnic backgrounds, and increase hiring for non-engineering roles to 12% under-represented ethnic backgrounds.

Software engineer Tracy Chou wrote in a Medium post in 2013 that the diversity numbers for the tech industry were far lower than anyone was willing to admit. Since then, many tech giants have been releasing data on the makeup of company workforces.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, chip giant Intel Corp. INTC, +0.14% unveiled an ambitious plan to spend $300 million on diversifying its workforce. In May, Intel Chief Executive Brian Kzranich gave more details on how it was going to achieve its plans at a conference sponsored by Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.

The Mercury News had been seeking diversity data from tech companies for years. In 2008, the newspaper sought the same data from the 15 biggest tech firms in the valley, with nine companies — including Cisco CSCO, +0.42%  , Intel and eBay EBAY, -0.88%  — turning it over. After six companies refused the request, an 18-month legal battle ensued. As a result, Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ, -0.33%  was compelled to hand over the data, but not five others: Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.87% Google Inc. GOOG, -1.10% Yahoo Inc. YHOO, -2.00% Oracle Corp. ORCL, +0.73%   and Applied Materials Inc. AMAT, -1.20%  

Many large tech companies — including Google and Apple — have begun disclosing the information in recent years, however, as public pressure has mounted.

Since Chou got Pinterest’s permission to share its diversity data in 2013, progress has been made at that company. At the time of Chou’s post, Pinterest had 11 women out of 89 engineers, or 12%.

“We’ve made some modest progress over the past year, with our number of female employees growing from 40% to 42%, engineering interns increasing from 32% to 36% female, and women engineers hired out of school increasing from 28% to 33%,” Sharp wrote. “But we have more work to do to increase the number of employees from all under-represented backgrounds, which is why we’re setting goals and taking the steps below.”

Gender bias and workforce makeup is still a problem in the white-male-dominated industry, as was seen in Ellen Pao’s ultimately unsuccessful case against venerable venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. Change will not happen overnight, but hopefully Pinterest will inspire other companies to be even more forthcoming about its specific goals.

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