Slack tackles workplace diversity, inclusion, but no silver bullet exists

Stop sign with harassment sign underneath
Slack is taking active steps to boost diversity, improve inclusiveness and reduce the risk of sexual harassment incidents. (gguy44/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

No industry has been immune to cases of sexual harassment in recent months—an issue that employees at enterprise software firm Slack frequently discuss, the company’s CEO said recently. 

Stewart Butterfield said the company hasn’t made policy changes or been spotlighted for any scandals, but the potential is there, he said in a TechCrunch article

“As we get bigger and we exist for longer, the greater the likelihood that the actual problems of the world will be present in Slack too,” Butterfield said. 

Although the company doesn’t have a chief diversity officer—because Butterfield wants that to be a “companywide responsibility that everyone is engaged in,” the article states—it does release periodic workforce diversity reports. The latest, which came out April 17, is the fourth. It shows that although Slack’s workforce is and has been predominantly white, the company has made strides toward more diversity. 

For example, 44.7% of its workforce is female, compared to 43.5% last year, and underrepresented minorities make up 12.5% now, up from 11.5% last year. Still, Slack employs only 19 black women, 21 Latina women and 16 women who identify as two or more races in the United States, while black and Latina women each make up 3% of Slack’s U.S. employee base, the article adds. 

To improve its diversity, Slack has partnered with Code2040, a community of black and Latin technologists who champion workplace diversity in the tech sector, and the Transgender Law Center, which aims to create and deploy ally training specific to the transgender community. 

But “most workplace diversity programs fail to produce meaningful diversity and inclusion, and some have actually increased bias among individual employees,” researchers wrote in Harvard Business Review. Still, it’s not impossible to foster inclusion.  

Basing their findings on the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research/National Center for Atmospheric Research Equity and Inclusion diversity training course, the researchers named five key practices for implementing a successful workforce diversity program: 

  • Focus on intervention, not just reducing bias. Make participation voluntary to attract employees who are already aware of societal biases and workplace barriers for women and minorities. They’re more open to conversation.

  • Branch out beyond managers. Inviting workers at all pay grades can help organizations better pinpoint conflicts and resolutions.

  • Home in on workplace, not personal, issues. Keep the conversation within the context of work while creating a safe space for people to discuss how personal identity can affect their performance.

  • Continue engagement after training sessions end. This keeps it top of mind—and encourages greater participation in diversity efforts.

  • Be flexible. “There is no one-size-fits-all curriculum for workplace diversity programs,” the article states.