Tech companies treat diversity reports like a press release — and it's a massive failure

Source: AP
Source: AP

Every year, major tech companies like PinterestGoogleFacebookApple and Twitter release diversity reports. They tend to show minimal, if any, progress toward hiring more employees and leaders who aren't white men. The press is critical; the tech community begs for improvement. A year later, the cycle repeats. 

These reports (and their timely release) are important: They build transparency and trust in the company, and allow the public to hold it accountable to its pledged commitments. This year, however, some companies missed their 12-month mark. They're waiting until the end of the calendar year to release their reports. 

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Twitter, Pinterest and Salesforce all pushed back the release of their diversity reports. Pinterest is expected to release its numbers in December, about 16 months since the last report. Twitter told Mic that it is releasing its updated report in January 2017. Salesforce released its report on Monday after a three-month delay.

When Mic reached out to Twitter, Pinterest and Salesforce, all companies denied claims of delaying their reports, essentially arguing that you can't delay something that doesn't have a set deadline. 

"We've committed to publishing our diversity statistics on an annual basis," Tony Prophet, chief equality officer at Salesforce, said in an email to Mic. "We have met this commitment this year and we will continue to do so."

Prophet is correct that the company never promised to release a report exactly one year from the preceding report. But the 16-month gap is revealing, regardless of whether or not it was formally delayed.

Delaying diversity reports defeats the purpose of the reports altogether, which is to hold companies accountable for their public commitments to diversity. If you're unfamiliar with the companies' internal strategy, their long wait might seem like a shady move. It makes companies look like they treat diversity reports like press releases: holding out for the best possible moment to release their most perfectly polished results for public consumption and critique. 

Diversity reports are about more than just public image.

Diversity reports are also essential for potential employees.
Source: 
Pressmaster/Shutterstock

It's common practice for tech giants to release annual diversity reports to mark their efforts (or lack thereof) in creating a workforce that isn't a sea of brogrammers. But diversity reports are also essential for potential employees: For some, a homogenous workforce can signal a toxic internal work culture. For women and people of color applying to jobs, an abysmal diversity report or lack of significant change can make or break their decision to join the team. 

Releasing reports is just the beginning. Companies in Silicon Valley have yet to show any significant improvements in their hiring of women and minorities. But diversity reports aren't another fluff piece for companies. They are, and have always been, about transparency. Transparency isn't releasing a report when numbers meet expectations, it's releasing a report no matter what. A lack of transparency indicates that public commitments to diversity may not be as much of a priority to a company as they claim. 

To affect real change, we need continued and consistent transparency, not transparency when it is most convenient: a diversity report released every year, not every 16 months. 

Pinterest and Twitter say the delay is about greater accuracy.

A diversity report isn't synonymous with a diversity effort.
Source: 
ASDF_MEDIA/Shutterstock

When asked why Pinterest delayed the release of its report, a spokeswoman said that "the date was not pushed back."

"Last year for the first time we released goals for the year, and so we're waiting for the calendar year to come to a close for the most accurate sense of data," she added. "New recruiting and internal inclusion practices were put in place with the goals at the beginning of the year, and so we'll be sharing the progress made in a comprehensive report, instead of reporting on goals set for the year just halfway through."

Pinterest was among the first tech companies to release its diversity data when former software engineer Tracy Chou — now a founding member of Project Include — published the numbers in 2013, prompting other companies to follow suit.

Twitter echoed Pinterest's sentiment, citing the need to gather more data before releasing their next report. 

"Last year we set measurable representation goals for Twitter in 2016, with the aim of making Twitter a more inclusive and diverse workplace," a spokesperson said in an email to Mic. "We're waiting until the end of this year to compile the data to ensure that our updated diversity report most accurately represents both the progress we've made against our goals as well as the work we're doing to drive long-term and sustained change."

"If we miss a goal, it means we need longer to figure out the complexities needed to move the needle and make sure we do it right," Candice Morgan, Pinterest's head of diversity and inclusion, told the Wall Street Journal.

But nothing is stopping companies from developing their initiatives and releasing their numbers at the same time. A diversity report isn't synonymous with a diversity effort. 

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Melanie Ehrenkranz

Melanie is a writer covering technology and the future. She can be reached at melanie@mic.com.

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