Wattpad has released the results of its 2018 Diversity and Inclusion survey, which aims to break down the identities of those within its employee base, and track how empowered they feel within the company.
Diversity and inclusion is a major topic of conversation within the Canadian tech space, especially as the policies and rhetoric of the United States—which call for closing borders—have pushed many companies to explicitly advocate for inclusion. Last year, 3,506 members of the Canadian tech community signed an open letter in response to US president Donald Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries, uniting to be “opposed to any and all laws that undermine or attack inclusion.”
However, in an industry that has garnered its own reputation for being unwelcoming to people in marginalized groups, tech companies struggle to share what they’re doing to be part of the solution. Seven months after the signing of the open letter, the CBC contacted 31 companies to check in on how they were building diverse companies themselves. Of the 31, only two shared their full data.
Since then, BetaKit has also published stories on two frameworks detailing how companies can track diversity and inclusion, including Feminuity and Fortay’s survey on diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and Hubba’s template on building a survey based on Project Include. At the core of such initiatives is the need for data; without knowing where the gaps are, companies can’t implement policies to improve them.
For companies looking to start their own diversity and inclusion efforts, Lakhani advises starting with the fundamentals, such as the promotion process and salaries before moving onto the behavioural issues.
“This is a systemic, larger program across tech,” Seema Lakhani, head of product and Wattpad Labs, told BetaKit. Lakhani is also head of the company’s 15-person diversity and inclusion committee. “We know we need more diversity in tech period, and that’s something that we can’t do alone. The more information that we as an industry can share with each other, the easier it will be to start to make progress towards this.”
Wattpad reported that overall, 56 percent of its employee base were women, and 50 percent of both its design and leadership teams were women. The entire product team is also made up of women.
Lakhani said that what the company did differently this year was work to take into account intersecting identities. Across the company, 21 percent of Wattpad employees are women of colour. Thirteen percent identify as LGBTQ+, while three percent are transgender.
Overall, people of colour make up 45 percent of all Wattpad employees, and 41 percent of its leadership team. Fifteen percent are non-native English speakers, and eight percent identify as having a disability.
Asked how Wattpad does ongoing work to ensure it’s building a diverse and inclusive workplace, Lakhani pointed to the efforts of its diversity and inclusion committee. The committee is split into subgroups focused on areas like hiring, training and culture, and self-advocacy. The company also uses tools like Textio to limit bias in its job posts.
“We’re also doing work around making sure career progression and promotions and salaries are really fair and transparent. So one of the things we’ve just done is ensure we have skills matrices, so different levels of career development growth at the company, and making really clear expectations of what the skill levels are for each level,” she said. “So for product management, I have associate product manager, product manager, senior product manager, princpal product manager, and in each level it’s really clear what the expectations are and a clear promotion process that happens twice a year.”
The company also worked to track how employees felt about participating in the workplace. When asked to agree with the statement that “when I speak up, my opinion is valued,” 79 percent of employees and 75 percent of women agreed. Wattpad’s survey noted that the number was lower for people of colour (68 percent) and non-native English speakers (58 percent).
Speaking with BetaKit, Lakhani detailed the ways that Wattpad was working on improving diversity and inclusion over the next year. It’s exploring anti-oppression training, and finding ways to support groups like non-native English speakers who don’t feel they have a voice.
“There’s women of colour and various other groups who are not scoring as high as they’d like on voice, and being able to have a voice,” Lakhani said. “Some of the stuff we started to do on that front is some of the advocacy training. Self-advocacy is a really important thing on both sides, both for management and leadership to understand how to promote that and how to support, as well as for those individual contributors, to ensure that they know the tactics and tools, and they have access to the same info and training as other people to know how to do this for themselves.”
On hiring, Wattpad is focused on its engineering team, which has lower representation of women (17 percent of the team identified as women). Within that team, Wattpad is piloting a program to make its hiring process more regimented, with clear question banks and interview rubrics to make sure everyone is evaluated in the same way, and capturing data throughout the process to see where gaps might lie. The company said it’s also reaching out to women in the engineering team to ensure they have clearer paths to success and providing them support.
For companies looking to start their own diversity and inclusion efforts, Lakhani advises starting with the fundamentals, such as the promotion process and salaries, before moving onto deeper behavioural issues.
“Those are such fundamental things, and for people who are marginalized, these are some of the things that impact them in the biggest way, if there’s pay inequity or an inability to see how they’re going to progress in their career,” Lakhani said. “Those things help everyone really, so there’s a strong case to just do them because they’re the right thing to help an organization grow anyway.”