Diversity (or a lack thereof) at Startups

Startups are doing some incredible things around the world. It’s a cliche but they have truly revolutionised our lives in every way. Unfortunately, this revolution does not extend to startups’ diversity.

It is well known that women and minorities are seriously underrepresented as founders and venture capital partners. We have actually gone backwards in female representation at VCs in the past 15 years. Until recently though, almost all research and data had looked at the senior levels of startups. What about the rest of the team? As Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou incisively wrote, the data just didn’t exist and was rather obfuscated to hide how poor diversity was.

Chou’s post led to growing pressure and clamour on some of the top technology companies in the world to release their diversity figures. Most of the largest tech companies now release annual reports on the state of their diversity and what they’re doing to improve.

It doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Here are some of the highlights (if you can call them that):

Despite the pressure to release diversity stats, there has not been a corresponding increase in representation. It’s going to be a long (and perhaps difficult) journey.

It’s not all bad though. Some companies have taken considerable and positive steps and for that we salute them. Perhaps the most admirable large tech company at the forefront of this movement is Pinterest. In a notable step, Pinterest publicly released their HR goals for 2016 a few months ago. Only last week, they introduced their first head of diversity, Candice Morgan.  Google also pledged to spend $150 million in 2015 on its diversity efforts.

Admittedly a few of the underlying causes of this lack of diversity go back many many years and are out of a tech company’s control. Far fewer women study computer science than men at university level and from a young age girls are put off science due to institutional and cultural reasons. Tech companies can only do so much to reverse this trend but this does not absolve them of all blame. The pressure on startups and tech companies to diversify their workforce must continue and they should become beacons of diversity.


Photo courtesy of greenlining.org