This year, Snapchat released its first-ever Snap Inc. Diversity Annual Report. Among things like how the company has driven diversity in recent years and its plans for the future, the 36-page report revealed that black workers and Hispanic workers comprise just 4.1 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively, of Snapchat’s US workforce.
The company addressed its efforts to bridge that gap and others in an Advertising Week panel, “Disrupting Bias at Scale,” featuring Oona King, Snapchat vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and Ed Couchman, Snapchat regional general manager, DACH, Netherlands, Nordics and UK.
King, a former Google exec and the second black woman elected to British Parliament, shares the lens through which Snapchat sees the way forward in eradicating systemic racism in tech and media. That vision, she says, requires a plan to increase the diversity of Snapchat’s workforce, increase the inclusivity of Snapchat’s culture and increase the inclusivity of Snapchat products. Snap’s success in DEI depends on three pillars: leadership, accountability and inspiration.
The app’s first step toward greater diversity was collecting inclusive data reflective of its global workforce. King says companies should appoint someone with a diverse background to own this project, but cautions against relying solely on that individual to change the company culture.
Everyone across industry level, including C-suite, must be involved. For leaders, that means identifying their privilege where they have it and then actually using it for the people who lack it, King says. Snapchat, for example, has implemented channels of communications between leadership and employee resource groups (ERGs). For example, executives sponsor ERGs and partner with them on initiatives executives work with ERGs to pilot partnerships aimed at increasing product diversity.
According to King, dialogue creates transparency and helps leaders stay accountable to their beliefs and plans around DEI. Since launching its first employee resource group in 2016, Snapchat now has 20 chapters around the world. Still, Snapchat’s report notes, “the burden of advocating for important DEI initiatives and accountability often has fallen on [ERGs] — rather than on our whole team.”
Another area Snapchat has ample room to grow is representation in tech roles, where the lack of diversity is most pronounced. A whopping 91 percent of Snapchat’s team members in these roles are white or Asian. According to King, the way to increase representation of racial minorities in such roles doesn’t start with hiring—it starts with improving the company culture.
“There’s no point in bringing women or underrepresented racial minorities into a tech work space that is very white. In a work culture, people get thousands of signals everyday as to whether they’re welcome or not. It’s those signals that determine if they stick around,” she says.
What King found at YouTube and Google is when they put specific measures in place to address retention, doing so had as much of an impact, if not a bigger impact, than addressing hiring.
Other ways Snapchat is fostering diversity include building a diverse group of employees to create inclusive machine learning systems; launching the first-ever formal audit of its content mix to understand its baseline for demographic representation; and instituting a living wage of $70,000 annually for all its US team members.
At the end of the day, it comes down to internal work and ensuring your diversity goals are managed the same way other business-related endeavors are. For Snapchat, King says this meant making diversity the heart of its business strategy.
“You can have all the most brilliant plans in the world for systems of accountability, but if the human beings with roles of leadership within those systems aren’t inspired to make diversity a top priority, nothing happens. And I know that. I’ve seen it time and again,” King says.