By Divya Vijayakumar
Pinterest has decided that since it couldn’t increase the rate at which it hired women in full-time engineering positions, the most sensible thing for it to do is lower its own standards for 2017. Seeing that women only constituted 21 percent of the company’s engineering hires, 19 percent of the engineers and 42 percent of the company’s total population in 2015, they had announced that they would meet a new goal of a hiring rate of 30 percentage for female engineers over this year. However, when the website fell short of its target by 8 percent, its “solution” was to accept that the original target could not be reached in 12 months as opposed to changing its approach or doubling down on its attempts.
The social media platform is modelled as a virtual scrapbook where users, mostly women, upload recipes, DIY tutorials, room décor, wedding photographs and fan art. Others can “pin” these posts to their own boards for inspiration. It was hipster before hipster was cool, bringing forward aesthetic trends that can’t be escaped today like mason jars and fairy lights. When Pinterest’s popularity sky-rocketed in 2012, the internet collectively lost the vestiges of its sanity – worrying about the fact that women dominated the site. TIME Magazine went so far as to declare that “Men are from Google+, Women are from Pinterest.” Websites like Manteresting, Gentlemint and Dartitup even popped up in retaliation, so that they could safeguard a man’s position in the interwebs and showcase bachelor pads, man caves, gadgets and sporting equipment instead.
Don’t let the “female-friendly” interface fool you. Most the team that runs the firm is male, and overwhelmingly so in the tech and leadership profiles – with men accounting for 79 percentage and 84 percentage of the fields respectively, according to numbers displayed by The Verge last year. It was this context that led the company to employ Candice Morgan at the head of its diversity campaign and publicly announce its internal goals for hiring people from underrepresented and minority categories.
As Ashwini Asokan, the co-founder of the Chennai-based startup Mad Street Den that focuses on artificial intelligence and computer vision proved, achieving gender equality even in coding-intensive positions is entirely feasible and not some distant dream. Her rules for fair representation included having a woman as one of the founders, creating a diverse team from the start and ensuring that hiring practices focused on the goals. Pinterest on the other hand was created by three men – Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra. Additionally, its tech team is almost entirely white and Asian. As Fast Company reported, it also had a history of prioritizing referrals (which tend mimic the composition of the existing base of employees) as well as favouring applicants from universities like Stanford and MIT (which do not have broad student bodies) in its hiring process.
What Pinterest initiated last year was an important conversation about the need for workplaces to be more inclusive. It was a first step in the right direction. Backtracking on their own decision with an implicit “oh well, we tried” and a shrug of their shoulders is most certainly not.