Yes, change is possible within startup culture

That’s the message of a new diversity guide from eight women tech leaders

Does your company give everyone a fair shot at success? That’s the question that the founders of Project Include are trying to help startup CEOs address. The group just released a set of recommendations and tools to move the needle on inclusion in tech. Because despite lots of research about the paltry numbers of women and people of color in the industry, ain’t much changed.

Project Include’s team of heavy hitters includes Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou — a role model for many women in the industry.

(Tracy spoke with me for my newsletter,Talk Story. I’ll occasionally be posting those interviews here on Medium. But to make sure you don’t miss hearing from a single one of these powerful women, subscribe.)

Talk Story: You set up a database in 2013 for tech companies to disclose their diversity numbers, and more than 200 companies participated. Is there an example of any that had meaningful follow through, in your opinion?

Tracy Chou: I don’t have full visibility into all the efforts across those companies, since the data they’ve contributed to my database only provides snapshots of their demographics, but from other channels I’ve seen a good number of them continue to push on diversity and inclusion initiatives. For example, Airbnb has done a deep dive into gender diversity on their data science team and grew the percentage of women from 15 percent to 30 percent. Numerous companies, including Airbnb, Pinterest, and Dropbox, have hired heads of diversity and inclusion to spearhead their efforts in that space — which to be clear, isn’t progress in and of itself, but at least shows some corporate commitment to change.

Project Include’s team has issued a comprehensive guide for CEOs to create a diversity plan for their startups. Often, diversity and inclusion work falls on the people who are themselves marginalized in a given industry. Why did your group decide to come together and take on this work?

Everyone in our group is deeply committed to driving change around these issues, and while it is extra work, we think it’s an important enough issue that we’re willing to take it on. We want to do more than talk about diversity and inclusion; we want to make it happen. And we think we’re in a good position to do that, given the span of our experiences, perspectives, and connections within the tech industry.

There’s an interesting discussion happening on your timeline about codes of conduct at companies. What are the people who are opposed to these codes afraid of, and how does Project Include address those fears?

I think those people prefer to deny the reality of why others want those codes of conduct — that there is bad behavior that happens, and that not everyone feels safe and respected in their professional environment — and they are afraid of having to curtail their own speech or behavior.

As part of the Project Include recommendations, we provide context and explanation for why codes of conduct are important, and how to develop them in a collaborative way that prompts critical thought about culture amongst different stakeholders and also encourages their buy-in to ensure successful implementation.

Tell me about a moment in your career that you regret, or one that you’re especially proud of.

My personal philosophy is to not regret anything, because even wayward steps were part of the path to where I am now!

If I had to pick out something from my engineering career that I’m most proud of, it’s launching the first partner products at Pinterest, including the self-serve ads platform and analytics product. We were a small team but we shipped a lot with both speed and quality; we all had the utmost respect for each other and had a lot of fun as a team, too. The way we executed on our work then is something I hope to replicate in every project or organization I’m a part of.

In my work on diversity, I’m proud to have helped kickstart an industry movement towards diversity data transparency with my Medium post and Github project.

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