Diversity & Inclusion at SoundCloud

Jan 11, 2017 · 5 min read

The People Team as Facilitator for Company-Wide Initiatives

By Julia Carloff-Winkelmann, Senior People Partner at SoundCloud

SoundCloud is a truly global company that has over 30 different nationalities, working together to bring the world the most open and authentic, people-powered music streaming service.

We believe that focussing on diversity and inclusion is a business imperative, not just a HR trend, and by having a diverse workforce our company and platform is enriched. Diverse teams who are innovative and creative tend to blend various ideas, styles and backgrounds, as different ways of working are proven to create better results. By breaking with homogeneity, we become more aware of our own potential biases and awareness is the starting point for personal growth.

In my role as People Partner at SoundCloud, one of my core responsibilities is to enable leaders and teams to thrive and drive business success. In addition to this, I have also been responsible for leading our company-wide diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Here is what I’ve learned.

Let the People team facilitate, not drive

Leading and driving diversity initiatives has been a strong focus in the 13 years I’ve worked in human resources. That focus included managing mentoring programs for women, hosting networking events, and facilitating unconscious bias training and diversity workshops.

I have no doubt that these initiatives have had some success but, over time, I’ve realized that such initiatives are most successful when they are driven by leaders and employees from across all levels of the organization, rather than a dedicated person in human resources.

Initiatives really become effective where ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ meet. Where passionate team members from across the organization pursue a cause, supported by leaders who are allies, evangelists, and sponsors.

Our organizational focus for diversity and inclusion in 2016 was determined as a result of an open and inclusive process, facilitated by myself, but owned by employees and managers from all levels. In a series of surveys and workshops we decided to focus and measure:

  1. The improvement of gender balance
  2. Facilitate unconscious bias workshops
  3. Support our employee resource groups in diversity and inclusion

Let the numbers speak

We make data dashboards available to SoundCloud employees to help them make good choices and even better decisions. In the People area that means, for example, data around retention, demographics, attrition, gender balance, or employee engagement.

Having de-identified data about diversity and inclusion is important to measure the health of an organization and therefore make it available. This includes conveying the gender balance during the recruiting process, as well as the gender balance, nationality, age, and distribution of seniority levels within teams.

Every quarter, we run a Diversity and Inclusion retrospective to review and measure progress against our company-wide Diversity and Inclusion objectives. The Diversity Resource Groups then share the progress against their specific objectives as a group and the outcomes in an internal blog post.

Moving the needle on diversity and inclusion is not an easy process and needs to become part of your culture, not just a one-off initiative. That’s why making that data continuously visible to SoundCloud team members has become a way for us to make it part of our culture.

Let HR business and recruiting partners influence diversity and inclusion

People partners and recruiting partners coach people managers to hire, manage, and retain diverse teams. This is neither obvious, nor trivial, and needs constant reminder and recommitment. The most challenging part is that we all, especially as hiring managers, need to become aware of, and then break away from, our own biases to resist the temptation to hire candidates who are exactly like us.

Similarly, as managers, we must be open to team members who act and communicate differently. At SoundCloud, HR business and recruiting partners have the opportunity to show hiring managers the benefits of diverse teams. A forum that works well for us is our ‘People Manager Forum’, a safe space for managers to receive peer coaching, networking, and training.

We decided to only work with executive search firms that are committed to consistently presenting a diverse set of candidates. We learned that this takes ongoing focus and effort but this perseverance ultimately led to two executives hires: our Chief Revenue Officer, Alison Moore, and Chief Financial Officer, Holly Lim, as well as doubling the number of women on the Director level and above.

Let’s celebrate and recognize those who make a difference

Finding ways to celebrate and recognize progress is important and helps us build a diverse and inclusive organization. It’s also a great way to honor the dedication of those passionate employees who contribute to diversity and inclusion efforts beyond their regular roles and responsibilities.

This summer, Eric Wahlforss, our Co-Founder recognized and celebrated key contributors with the newly created Diversity Hero and Diversity Evangelist awards where they receive a certificate, a gift, and recognition in an internal blog post.

Let’s review our progress over the past 12 months

  • We significantly improved the gender balance in our executive team. Two out of five members of the executive team are women.
  • We nearly doubled the number of women on Director level and above and increased our number of women engineering managers from one to five.
  • To diversify our Engineering team with engineers with more diverse background — on gender and on seniority — we introduced our Engineering Traineeship Program. We hired seven diverse, early career engineers to join SoundCloud.
  • We founded a new diversity resource group by SoundCloud team members of ethnic minorities.
  • 50% of our employees have participated in our employee-run Unconscious Bias training. We have big ambitions with this training and will be aiming to increase this figure next year.

In addition, we run a 12 month women’s mentoring program to support the development and retention of women at SoundCloud. We also hosted or facilitated several events for women in our industry, including PANDA, Girlsday and “Women In Tech”.

While we still have more work to do to make SoundCloud an even more diverse and inclusive workplace, I am proud of what we have achieved and feel confident about the progress we will continue to make in the future. We’re building on a solid foundation of highly engaged leaders and SoundCloud team members who are passionate about making the company more diverse and inclusive.

All members of our diversity resource groups are agents of change, they are consultants in critical decisions, and they bring important knowledge into the company that we all benefit from in terms of raising awareness and helping us to be a better company. As HR professionals, our role is to channel this energy to deliver tangible results without the need to introduce the role of a diversity manager.

As they say, it takes an entire village. If you want to play a part in it, please get in touch with us.


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SoundCloud is the world’s leading audio platform, where anyone can share and discover unique music & audio, on the web and on mobile.

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