The Covid-19 pandemic forced many of us into completely new ways of living, working and caring for ourselves and loved ones. But the pandemic wasn’t the only seismic event across society this past year—far from it.
The atrocities of systemic racism within our policing and justice systems once again exploded to the forefront of global consciousness, including the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other blatant acts of hate that have continued to unfold against underrepresented groups, particularly individuals of Black and Asian descent. For many, these deeply personal and challenging events made it crystal clear that the old notion that we should somehow separate our “work” from our “real lives” no longer made sense.
At Slack, we found that we needed to lean on each other and prioritize our commitment to diversity, engagement and belonging more than ever.
“This past year saw the collapse of the personal and the professional, serving as a catalyst for leaders to broaden how they think about supporting employees and strengthening their internal cultures,” says Nadia Rawlinson, Slack’s Chief People Officer. “This took the form of providing crucial resources like mental health support, fostering transparency and open dialogue so employees can truly feel able to bring their ‘full selves’ to work and much more.”
Our goal is to be accountable to those values, so today we’re sharing our latest numbers with respect to the diversity of our employees and leadership, as well as highlighting more about the people and programs behind those numbers.
This journey will never be over but our vision remains clear: to create a company where everyone is supported and empowered to do the best work of their lives.
Where we stand today
Our global headcount increased by 516 employees from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020, for a total of 2,527 employees.
We continued to see increases in women and underrepresented minorities (URMs) in leadership roles, defined as director level or above (at the same time, however, we also saw a slight overall decline in underrepresented minorities among the entire employee base). Moreover, nearly 30% of current Slack employees have joined the company since Slack shifted to a distributed working model in March 2020, during which time we’ve worked to continue improving our ability to hire more underrepresented talent.
While our diversity report reflects data collected in 2020 and shows we have had a slight increase in URM hiring during the pandemic and an uptick in Black leadership year over year, we also want to acknowledge that we are now seeing early data indicating that attrition at Slack has increased slightly across the company—and particularly among URM groups. This is disappointing, something we take very seriously and are actively working to address. While we are working to better understand the reasons for this attrition, we believe contributing factors include the intense demand for tech talent industrywide and the lengthy tenure of some early employees.
We want to be clear that we recognize that we have to identify gaps in employee experiences and build a more inclusive environment, grounded in a culture that creates opportunities for success for all our employees. We have already taken a number of actions, including partnering with Paradigm, a leader in diversity consulting, to analyze our engagement survey results and exit interview data, and conduct focus groups with both current employees and alumni to better understand the individual experiences of URMs at Slack. The insights from this work will give us a deeper understanding of the specific ways we can better retain our diverse talent.
The 2020 statistics shared below are a snapshot of Slack’s diversity, engagement and belonging efforts and an important data point as we continue to evaluate our approach. Our last report for this data, our 2019 statistics, was released a year ago. Our terminology and definitions remain the same. Our Employment Information Report EEO-1, or EEO-1, filing is currently in process. We will provide a link to that report when it is available. Of note, while Slack is a global company, we have limited our demographic reporting other than gender to U.S.-based employees in order to adhere to local laws in the other countries in which we operate.
Here are the supporting statistics from 2020, and, for comparison, 2019:
2020 Women at Slack – Global | Gender at Slack
2019 Women at Slack – Global | Gender at Slack
2020 U.S. Overall | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2019 U.S. Overall | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2020 U.S. Technical | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2019 U.S. Technical | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2020 U.S. Non-Technical | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2019 U.S. Non-Technical | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2020 U.S. Managers | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2019 U.S. Managers | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2020 U.S. Leadership | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
2019 U.S. Leadership | Race & Ethnicity at Slack
In the U.S., we also look at LGBTQ, disability and veteran status among employees.
6.1% of our U.S. workforce identify as LGBTQ
4.6% of our U.S. managers identify as LGBTQ
1.5% of our U.S. workforce identify as having a disability
1.6% of our U.S. workforce identify as veterans
Beyond the numbers
We have always prioritized efforts to make trust and transparency one of the cornerstones of how we show up for employees at Slack. In 2020, this meant we encouraged employees to come together in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minnesota, and to communicate openly as the world trained a long-overdue spotlight on police violence. The need to hold space for vulnerability and candid conversations has only increased with the continued violence that both the Black and Asian American communities have suffered in recent months.
It was through these conversations that we learned there are still meaningful gaps in the types of support we provide for our Black employees. Even though as a company and platform we value transparency, empathy and accountability, our support of Black employees needed to be more tailored. We needed to be more intentional about creating and centering spaces for Black employees to safely share their lived experiences. As a result, we created dedicated listening sessions with our executive leaders and put what we learned into action. In turn, those sessions led to an increase in mental health support, the expansion of our mentorship program for our Black and Hispanic/Latinx employees, donations to anti-violence nonprofits and the establishment of additional paid time off for employees to volunteer.
New initiatives to support Black employees
Expanding professional development resources: We moved quickly to launch a full suite of tools and programs designed to further support our Black employees in their career ambitions. We expanded our executive coaching via BetterUp to all interested members of our Mahogany employee resource group (ERG), which is for employees who identify as Black or as part of the African diaspora. We also focused on our existing Rising Tides sponsorship and development program for Black and Hispanic/Latinx employees while offering a separate and complementary mentorship program. We launched a companywide professional development toolkit and hosted career development workshops for the Mahogany ERG and a speaker series featuring leading outside experts to better educate the entire company on how we can all be actively anti-racist. Nearly one-third of Slack’s Black employees participated in these offerings, and we are committed to continue offering these types of tools over the longer term.
Doubling down on volunteer efforts: One early priority was making sure we were supporting Slack’s employees in showing up for their communities, designating the Juneteenth holiday a global paid Volunteer Time Off (VTO) day moving forward.
Slack for Good also partnered with Raheem, a national nonprofit working to end police terror against Black people by making police behavior visible and accountable. In addition to funding a new engineering position on Raheem’s team, more than 250 Slack employees have volunteered their time and technical support, including helping Raheem share the findings of its Oakland Police Use of Force Report—a three-month study commissioned by the City of Oakland to survey residents about their experiences with police use of force and changes they recommend to the city Police Department’s Use of Force policy.
Offering dedicated mental health support: While Slack has always offered mental health resources to our employees, we recognized the outsized toll the numerous incidents of fatal police violence had on the mental health of our Black employees. As such, we provided new mental health resources specifically designed for Black, Indigenous, and people of color employees, as well as tools to identify culturally competent mental health providers. We also hosted a resilience workshop for Black employees with a Black mental health professional, and our Mahogany ERG led a day of solidarity, carving out space for members to take emergency time off and encouraging allies to educate themselves on how they could best support the community.
We know we are still in the early stages of our ongoing journey to better support our Black employees and we are committed to continuing this work.
Empowering Slack’s workforce
In addition to the crisis of racial injustice and violence in the United States, the Covid-19 pandemic meant we needed to get creative about how we could support and sustain our employees around the world.
Having an entire company working outside of central offices for extended periods can be difficult because we lose those organic, spontaneous connections that occur in passing and help foster a sense of community. We knew, as Slack went remote virtually overnight (and remains a distributed workforce today), that we would need to work overtime to ensure Slack’s culture not only continued, but grew stronger.
We expanded programs focused on helping employees create community, manage burnout, access new development opportunities and thrive at Slack. Here is more on those programs and how we’ve supported our entire employee base during this past year:
Flexibility to focus
There is widespread agreement that digital-first working models can support both productivity and work-life balance, but we’ve also heard from employees that working from home 100% of the time can be challenging. With that in mind, we’re now offering completely optional, free WeWork memberships to all Slack employees.
As is clear from recent data by the Future Forum, Black employees value remote working more than their counterparts, making this an important addition to a more inclusive digital-first future. That research found nearly all—97%—of Black people currently working remotely prefer a hybrid or full-time remote-working model in the future vs. a return to co-located office settings. Part of the explanation is that Black knowledge workers are exhausted having to fulfill the duties of their job while also fighting workplace discrimination, microaggressions and the need to code-switch within the traditional office setting.
Mental health resources
As the mental and emotional toll of both the pandemic and ongoing racial violence became more clear, we expanded our existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers employees and their eligible dependents global resources to help with a wide range of personal struggles, from marital issues to substance abuse.
Through this expansion, we now offer access to Modern Health, a personalized platform that matches employees with a level of care that’s right for their needs. This includes 1:1 mental health coaching, clinical therapy, live group circles based on a particular issue, such as Black Lives Matter, Healing Asian Communities, Reset for 2021, and more.
Emergency time off
During the pandemic, Slack prioritized employee access to emergency resources. Every employee received 80 hours, or the equivalent of 10 working days, of paid emergency time off in addition to regular paid time off.
These benefits were inclusive of all working employees, salaried or hourly, and not solely targeting more traditionally recognized groups of caregivers. This allowed all Slack employees to personally recharge and take time off related to Covid or non-Covid illnesses or family care.
Employee Resource Groups
Employee Resource Groups play a central role driving belonging by giving employees tools, professional development opportunities, and the support they need to create community with others who share their experience, whether that’s fellow Black employees, women, veterans, LGTBQ and more.
They have been an immense contributor to a sense of belonging at Slack, especially at a time when nearly 30% of current employees have joined the company since we went remote. This means work relationships are increasingly built and nurtured over video calls and messages.
Expanding on the success of our ERGs, Slack launched our previously mentioned Community Incubator program last year to help new and growing ERGs thrive. For example, Fuego, a group for Hispanic and Latinx employees, began its incubation journey with the start of the pandemic, and officially became Slack’s seventh ERG this year.
This past year, Slack ERGs invested time and energy connecting with other ERG’s within similar tech companies. This cross-organization network of support helped our Mahogany ERG host three Black History Month events, expanding ways to source panelists for events and build audiences for shared events. It also enabled our Fuego ERG to host a healing circle with Splunk for BIPOC employees across both companies.
Creating ways for employees to connect across organizational boundaries is an increasingly important way to empower collaboration and community. ERGs have started to utilize the Slack Connect feature to connect with ERG leaders across companies to share initiatives and collaborate on events.
Rising Tides and other development opportunities
A major focus among our diversity, engagement, and belonging (DEB) work is expanding access to opportunities. Rising Tides is a six-month sponsorship program for talented and diverse groups of employees who have historically lacked access to this kind of support. To date over 70 employees have received executive sponsorship, professional coaching and professional development through this offering.
A few stories illustrate the impact of this program:
Jaime McFarland, now a director in our product design team, was nominated to participate in last year’s Rising Tides cohort. She was on the cusp of a challenging promotion step, moving from senior manager to director, which is seen in many companies as the first entree into the ranks of senior leadership. She credits the program for helping her make that transition successfully.
“Often it’s not skills that hold people back, it’s the visibility,” McFarland says. “And while traditional mentorship is often about building skills, Rising Tides is about visibility and growth through that opportunity and exposure.”
McFarland was able to count on bi-weekly meetings with Slack’s CTO Cal Henderson, and says the relationship was pivotal to her growth as a leader. The senior-most executives who participate in Rising Tides commit to introduce their sponsees to others within their network outside of Slack, exposure that can create career-defining moments. Equally important, though, was the support McFarland found from her fellow Rising Tide members.
“It created a dedicated space during the workweek with a trusted community to talk about all these issues and struggles. It’s different from the things you do on your own to learn and grow, like reading Medium articles or hunting out ad-hoc learning opportunities. Those weekly dedicated hours were a lifeline during the height of the pandemic,” McFarland says. “It showed me I’m not alone in my challenges and experiences.”
Often it’s not skills that hold people back, it’s the visibility.
Halimah Jones, a co-leader in the Mahogany ERG, received similar support when we expanded the Rising Tides model with additional mentorship support for Black and Hispanic/Latinx employees. Launched in 2020, Jones was paired with a senior leader committed to her growth.
“It’s helped me approach and navigate new things, but it also works both ways. He’s (her mentor, Ted Getten, a senior director of program management at Slack) also listening to me and showing up as an ally for me.”
The care that goes into matching has also been a defining characteristic of this employee-led mentorship program, even if it was ideated to be a small cohort of about 34 mentees/mentors. “The matches were really clear and intentional. We wanted mentors who had access to power the mentees didn’t and were willing to use that as an ally.”
And unlike many mentorship programs where it’s a struggle to get busy senior executives to commit, they had the opposite problem.
“We had more mentor volunteers than we could match,” Jones says. “It was very exciting to see. It showed how many people were willing to be an ally, to make the commitment to talk about their mentees and their skills when they (the mentees) weren’t in the room. It’s all about the more senior folks using their social capital to get employees of color into those rooms.”
We had more mentor volunteers than we could match. It was very exciting to see.
The impact has been profound on her own professional journey, says Jones, a partner on Slack’s Organizational Effectiveness team. The program is over yet she and Getten still meet regularly. “It’s been so beneficial,” Jones says.
A fellow mentee, Jaime Acosta, a regional customer success leader, had a similar experience with the program benefiting both mentors and mentees. He was paired with Laurie Wetzel, a senior director, Solutions Engineering, because she had the specific leadership experience he was eager to gain, which was to advance from a successful people manager to a manager of managers. “We both learned so much from each other,” he says.
For Curtis Allen, a staff software engineer, participating in the main Rising Tides sponsorship cohort has opened up a new understanding of himself and his leadership potential.
Now one-third of the way through the program, Allen says it’s influenced so much of his approach to his work, from how he receives feedback to how he’s thinking through his future career path at Slack.
“I never wanted to be a leader. I was just happy to do the work,” Allen says. “But now, working with a professional coach, it’s completely widened my horizons. Before it felt like ‘climbing the ladder’ was for other people, but now I see my skills can have a greater impact on my team if I focus on becoming a better leader.”
Before it felt like ‘climbing the ladder’ was for other people, but now I see my skills can have a greater impact on my team if I focus on becoming a better leader.
Slack for Good
Slack for Good has a mission to increase the number of historically underrepresented people in the technology industry. Initiatives include Next Chapter, a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals find skilled, long-term employment in the technology sector and shift perceptions around re-entering individuals. Slack recently announced seven new member companies, including Affirm, Checkr, GoodRx, American Family Insurance and Lob. They join existing members Dropbox, Zoom, Square and others for a total of 11 companies and 21 apprentices in Next Chapter’s third cohort.
There are also Slack for Good committees, which enable groups of employees across our global offices to support local nonprofits and charities. Annually, each committee identifies a nonprofit organization where Slack could make a meaningful cash contribution. Many of the volunteering projects that employees undertook last year with their paid “VTO,” or volunteer time off, focused on supporting youth learners during the pandemic.
For example, employees in Toronto hosted a speed mentoring session for youth who face barriers getting into the Canadian job market, whether due to recent immigration or other factors. “You feel like you’ve made an impact,” says Cristina Lutcan, who works on our customer experience team and who volunteers with ACCES. An immigrant herself, Lutcan understands the struggles to find work and rebuild your support network. ”You are excited about the opportunities, but you also need community.”
We’ve continued our partnership with Year Up, a workforce training program that connects underserved young adults with meaningful career pathways at companies like Slack. To date, 80% of our Year Up interns have converted to full-time roles. This encouraging success, coupled with our commitment to expand access to marginalized communities, inspires us to continue investigating additional partnership options for non-traditional paths to tech.
The shift to a digital-first model creates a unique opportunity to redesign work, including how we weave diversity, equity and belonging into all aspects of work design. Driving original research and identifying best practices to leverage these opportunities is a core tenet of the Future Forum, a Slack-backed consortium that enables leaders to reimagine work through data and dialogue.
Workplace norms that have built up since the beginning of office work have contributed to a workplace that does not reflect the diversity of society. The Future Forum—in partnership with Herman Miller, Boston Consulting Group, Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) and others—provides leaders with a data-driven approach to better understand how they can move past these norms and build more inclusive, diverse teams. Some of the original research and conversations to date include:
- A research piece co-authored with MLT titled, “A new era of workplace inclusion: moving from retrofit to redesign”
- An executive roundtable co-hosted with Fortune magazine on shaping an inclusive workplace
- An academic summit on building anti-racist organizations and the future of how teams should operate
- A playbook from top ERG leaders on how they build and support successful communities among distributed teams and a companion piece on how executives can support them
- A playbook on supporting the needs of working mothers
Prioritizing diversity, engagement and belonging remains a crucial part of strengthening and maintaining Slack’s culture in a digital-first world. We are beginning to welcome offices back to the mix of tools available to support collaboration. As we build the flexible future of work, we believe that we must use this opportunity to rethink workplace norms and systems that don’t serve underrepresented employees. However, we also know that it doesn’t eliminate the need for strong, intentional efforts to continue.
“Over the past year, we’ve continued to better understand how we can uphold Slack’s values, while creating new resources to help employees navigate a difficult year. But our efforts aren’t just reflected in a single diversity report and we’re never satisfied,” says Rawlinson. “While we know we haven’t—and won’t—always get it right on the first try, we’re committed to listening to our employees, meeting them where they are with tools, resources and support that are most resonant for them, and using every opportunity to create a more just, equitable and diverse workplace.”