Innovation is core to Etsy’s growth strategy, says the company's CTO
Data shows that diverse technology companies perform better financially, yet today’s tech workers are still overwhelmingly white and male. Men held 76 percent of U.S. technical jobs last year, and 95 percent of the American tech workforce is white.
In a tepid pool of slow progress around diversity, e-commerce giant Etsy stands out among large corporations in general and technology companies in particular. More than 50 percent of Etsy’s executive team and half of its board of directors are women—making it one of the only public companies to reach gender parity in the boardroom and the C-suite.
Overall, women make up more than 55 percent of Etsy’s workforce, dwarfing fellow tech companies like Facebook (36 percent women as of last year) and eBay (40 percent as of 2017). When it comes specifically to software development positions, where discrepancies are often greatest, the company similarly outperforms its peers. More than 30 percent of Etsy engineers identify as women or non-binary, and more than 30 percent are people of color.
“These numbers are industry-leading, especially when compared to other tech companies who report ‘tech roles’ and not the more narrow category, ‘engineering’ roles,” Etsy’s chief technology officer, Mike Fisher, wrote in a recent blog post. “Even though we’re proud of our progress, we’re not fully satisfied.”
Diversity is clearly a material issue for Etsy—more than 85 percent of its sellers are women, so it makes sense that the company would want its workforce to be similarly inclusive. Still, we were curious how Etsy continues to improve its diversity numbers year over year, even as other technology companies struggle to do the same, so we spoke with Fisher by phone to learn more.
Innovation is core to Etsy’s growth strategy. At any given time, the company’s engineers are running dozens of innovation experiments to improve the experience for buyers and sellers. In order to manage this type of experiment velocity at scale, Etsy’s engineers must quickly assess what works and what doesn’t—and having diverse voices at the table gives the company a leg up, Fisher told TriplePundit.
“We manage an amazingly complex marketplace,” Fisher said. “Every item is unique, so the complexity is orders-of-magnitude greater than it is for even a large e-commerce shop. In order to manage all of that complexity, you really needed a diverse workforce. It helps you bring diverse ideas so, when issues arise, you can challenge each other and get to the best solutions faster.”
In October 2017, Etsy announced a goal to “ensure equity” in its tech workforce by hiring more people from underrepresented groups. In pursuit of this ambition, the company took a closer look at how it hires engineers and developers—re-wording job descriptions and changing up the interview process in order to hire the best people without bias.
Meanwhile, Etsy is looking to bolster the technology pipeline of tomorrow. The company works with nonprofits like Code Nation to help students in under-resourced high schools start technology careers. It also supports the 2x Tech Initiative in its home city of New York, which seeks to double the number of computer science graduates from the City University of New York system over the next five years. And its team regularly attends and sponsors conferences focused on underrepresented groups in tech.
“It's part of a very long-term strategy,” Fisher said of Etsy’s work to support young people of all backgrounds as they seek careers in tech. “It helps us not only to be good corporate citizens, but also to seed the pipeline for five or even 10 years from now.”
Ensuring a diverse talent pipeline is only part of the solution. Data shows that people from underrepresented groups are more likely to feel unwelcome at technology companies and as such leave their tech roles more often. “You can work to bring in more women or underrepresented minorities, but ultimately people are going to leave if the culture doesn't support them,” Fisher told TriplePundit.
A report from the Center for Talent Innovation, for example, found that 52 percent of highly qualified women ultimately quit their jobs in science, engineering and technology. Similarly, a 2017 survey from the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll found that women and people of color were more likely to leave technology companies due to perceived unfair treatment compared to white men.
For its part, Etsy supports its diverse tech teams with employee resource groups (ERGs) and a culture that encourages people to be themselves and ask questions, Fisher explained.
“Unfortunately in the industry, people often have a culture of trying to be the smartest in the room,” Fisher told us. “We have an environment that we call ‘bring your whole self to work.’ You can ask questions, and we're not going to judge you. That type of culture, from the very start, embraces everybody and makes people from all walks of life and every background feel welcome.”
All of this adds up to an inclusive culture that helps Etsy remain successful at not only recruitment but also retention. “We're the type of place that people can be themselves, no matter what that is,” Fisher said. “You can trick people during the interview process, but when they're here day after day, they really feel that authenticity.”
As much as we’re predisposed to agree with a group, our willingness to disagree increases dramatically if the group is diverse, according to a 2014 study published by MIT. Technology companies desperately need this sort of questioning and challenging to compete in an industry that hinges on its ability to innovate.
Though an inclusive tech workforce is likely a long way off, the data proves it’s good for business: Gender-diverse organizations are 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than their less-diverse peers, and ethnically diverse teams are 33 percent more likely to be profitable.
“As an industry, we would be well served to represent the local community,” Fisher told 3p. “That's a far stretch from where we are today, but together that should be our goal. At Etsy, we want to be thought leaders and help a lot of our peers in the industry come along with that.” Etsy is currently advertising a number of open engineering positions and, as always, it’s encouraging people of all backgrounds to apply.
Images courtesy of Etsy
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.