“Part of the Team”: Designing Inclusive Management at Pinterest

By Candice Morgan, Head of Diversity @ Pinterest & Joelle Emerson, Founder and CEO @ Paradigm

At Pinterest, our diversity and inclusion strategy has increasingly focused on not only growing the demographic diversity of our workforce, but on designing an inclusive culture where everyone is empowered to do their best work. We know that this culture must be cultivated intentionally, both by values we put in place at a structural level, and by every individual that brings those values to life.

Managers play an important role in defining organizational culture, and they have a particularly significant impact on the experiences of inclusion on their teams. As a part of our broader efforts to design an inclusive culture, we want to equip managers with the skills and tools they need to lead inclusively. In order to do that effectively, we must start by understanding more about how our managers lead now. As part of Inclusion Labs, we worked with our partners at Paradigm to conduct this research.

The Research: Analyzing Inclusive Management

To start, we ran analyses on data from our employee engagement surveys, identifying existing survey items that tap into manager inclusiveness. These included questions like “I feel safe speaking up (e.g. sharing concerns or constructive feedback),” “My manager ensures that people’s’ ideas and work are attributed to them appropriately,” and “I feel like I’m part of the team.” We then statistically validated that these items hung together, or correlated, into a single scale. We were excited to learn that across Pinterest, all managers score quite well on this scale — rather than ranging from “bad” to “good,” we saw that when it comes to managing inclusively, our managers range from “fair” to “exceptional.”

Based on these data, we decided to learn more about management styles and practices at Pinterest by interviewing roughly a dozen managers with a range of scores. We wanted to learn more about what types of management practices distinguish inclusive managers from exceptionally inclusive managers. At Pinterest, we think of inclusive leadership as the set of behaviors through which we enable people to be their authentic selves, value differences, and create a sense of belonging. We conducted 45-minute scripted interviews, designed to identify these behaviors. We then coded those interviews for presence or absence of inclusive manager behavior, and ran an analysis of the qualitative data.

Findings: Exceptionally Inclusive Managers Do A Few Things Differently

We learned that our exceptionally inclusive managers do the following:

  1. Create an open and empowering culture. Exceptionally inclusive managers communicate openly with members of the team, giving them a voice and soliciting their feedback. As a result they create cultures defined by transparency, honesty and trust. Through this culture, these managers empower people to make decisions, and employees feel they have greater ownership their work. This finding is consistent with Catalyst research that shows inclusive managers tend to emphasize traits like empowering their employees and humility. One manager told us that at Pinterest, “everybody is an owner. I’m doing a disservice if I’m not providing a way for people to voice their thought and opinions regularly… It’s important to consistently find ways to empower people to take ownership and responsibility.” Another shared their perspective that “Anything is possible, anybody on the team can move the needle. We seek to share ideas [and] feel collective ownership.”
  2. Lead by example. Exceptionally inclusive managers not only communicate an inclusive culture, but they live the norms they seek to instill on their team. For example, they communicate their own mistakes, and are open and transparent with their team, encouraging their employees to do the same. For instance, when a manager talks about a mistake they’ve made and what they’ve learned from it, then their team is more likely to communicate, rather than cover up their own mistakes. One manager told us, “I share my own experiences with the company — talk about getting projects that I didn’t like, or found tedious or not motivating, that still solved a big problem.”
  3. Distribute work with team input. Exceptionally inclusive managers see work distribution as a collaborative process between the manager and team member. They give people the opportunity to work on projects they’re particularly interested in, and make sure people have stretch assignments. In order to do this effectively, they solicit input from people before distributing assignments. One manager from this group told us, “We put people in places in which they are excited about the work they are doing. We work hard to make sure that they like the business they are working on, industries, some level of passion interest, or growth opportunity. It’s a pretty collaborative process.” From another: “I go out of my way to show examples of growth opportunities, so people feel trusted to push themselves to the limit and fail from time to time. That builds trust and respect, and safety.”
  4. Make time for connecting. Exceptionally inclusive managers make time for structured socializing with their teams. Specifically, they hold frequent, structured team-building events, such as one-on-one lunches, happy hour, or offsites. Research shows that this type of structured socializing leads to more organizational trust and sense of belonging, especially for people who are underrepresented in an organization. One manager discussed hosting a bonding hour twice a month: “We play board games or something similar, everyone comes together, it’s a very neutral setting. We’ve gone to [museums], played [sports]… mandatory fun — everyone is encouraged to go.”
  5. Put in time to give support. If a team member is struggling, exceptionally inclusive managers provide additional support. They may assign a peer mentor, or offer extra time personally to guide their colleague. One manager discussed how they respond when someone is struggling: “I give more mentoring in my one on one meetings. And I’ll give additional meetings to go through particular preparation for a deliverable or presentation. Also I have the employees’ peers serve as mentors as well. I really try to step up the support when someone is struggling.”

Next Steps

This research is just the beginning of our focus on equipping Pinterest’s managers and team leaders with the tools they need to create the most innovative and inclusive teams. We are incorporating these principles into trainings and a comprehensive Inclusive Manager Playbook, informed by research and emphasizing the strategies that are both practical and effective for our team. We’re also continuing to refine this research in collaboration with Paradigm and others — stay tuned for more in the new year.


*Paradigm’s Lauren Aguilar led this effort. Dr. Aguilar’s research focuses on how to create inclusive team dynamics that empower everyone to do their best work. Her research shows that inclusive team cultures are atmospheres where everyone feels like they belong, are valued, and are respected as individuals, and where everyone has access to opportunities to grow.

**Factor analysis (principal components analysis) was used to build the scale. The Cronbach’s Alpha for all 12 items was .90.

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