How Etsy Truly Prioritizes Diversity: An Inside Look Into Company Culture

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As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

By Betsy Mikel (Editor, Women 2.0)

Culture AwardsAll eyes are on Etsy. The 10-year-old startup turned tech company has certainly grown up. Now 685 employees strong, Etsy’s staff supports 1.4 million sellers and 19.8 million buyers on their online DIY e-commerce platform. And as Etsy grows, how will they stay true to their core values?

The advice from AirBnB’s CEO and co-founder Chesky Co-founder? Don’t fuck up the culture. Etsy has long prioritized their culture, and it’s something we’ve recognized them for. One of the sponsors of our recent Women 2.0 Awards, Etsy the clear winner of the Women 2.0 Culture Creator Award.

For many companies, developing a strong and enviable culture starts with a bit of soul searching on their unique core values. For Etsy, one of those core values is diversity. The company made headlines when they realized diversity of their employees was a major issue — and then their gender diversity decreased by 35 percent even though they had made a point a prioritize it.

Etsy learned that saying diversity was a core value didn’t necessarily translate to actually making it happen. They needed to do more.

So Etsy started investing in grants for the Hacker School retreat for programmers and encouraged more women to apply. Then Etsy aggressively hired many of those junior engineers right after they finished the program. Wondering how else Etsy has succeeded at prioritizing diversity and quintupling the number of women on its engineering staff?

We spoke to Engineering Director Mike Morgan and Senior Engineering Manager of Performance Lara Hogan about how the company has tackled diversity to not only talk the talk, but also implemented changes to ensure a culture that prioritizes more than just gender diversity. Read on to learn more about how Etsy has strived to build an equal-for-all workplace.

What’s the most effective thing you’ve done internally to promote a diverse workgroup where every employee feels equally able to participate, benefit and take healthy risks?

Etsy: Our yearly progress report is transparent and ensures we own our numbers and talk about our progress as a company.  Many companies don’t discuss these numbers or publish them publicly -- doing so has helped us improve our culture.

Tracking these numbers isn’t about asserting success, it’s about understanding how we’re doing so we can work to improve. We want to always take a humble approach to diversity. While we’ve been portrayed as a success story, we have a long way to go.

We have also worked with Hacker School, NCWIT and B-corp to train and educate our employees and hiring managers.

Who in your company serves as an evangelist or externally-facing representative of your diversity vision and "meritocracy" approach?

Etsy: All employees; it's a given in our culture.

What actions have you taken to attract and sustain a healthy balance in the types of people who work, lead and succeed at Etsy?

EtsyOffice2Etsy: We measure a lot of things at Etsy, but we believe that diversity metrics alone don’t capture a company’s efforts to create an inclusive culture that organically supports diversity of all kinds. Headcount stats tend to overlook how accepting and supportive the workplace is, whether people of all types feel valued and included, and the degree to which diverse candidates can succeed and thrive.

Instead of a focus on increasing a percentage point, Etsy is focused on building a company culture that gives everyone a voice. We continually examine our culture, challenge employee perceptions and engage in leadership exercises and education. One of the most powerful steps we’ve taken is championing a frank dialogue with employees about how we can all take responsibility for improvements.

We’ve identified the problem (diversity imbalance) and are tracking our progress with HR and with hiring managers. For example, right now individual teams and hiring managers test a variety of approaches (e.g. anonymized homework and resumes) and share results with each other.

This decentralized approach is what has worked at Etsy for other technical and non-technical problems in the past: We push ownership of solutions out to the edges of the organization with the expectation of standardizing things that work.

What advice do you have for companies who want to improve the quality of their culture and actual work by including the fullest array of talent?

Etsy:

1. Assess where you are and share it with everyone…

…even if you don’t like what you find. If you want to make improvements, you need objective assessment and transparency. To set goals and address issues, you have to recognize and understand them first.  Companies like Google have done this and it takes courage — just like when we published our numbers — but being open is the first step.

2. Nurture feedback loops

Etsy has an open, flat culture and hierarchy where people’s opinions are valued and heard. Making sure you have good tools, leaders and executives who are good listeners and periodically checking in on “how are we doing. Really?” help track progress against your goals.

3. Talk about current issues

Don’t shy away from what everyone’s already talking about. Our executives have surfaced topics to everyone -- things like doxxing, gamer gate, happenings at other companies, etc. Stories and current events are not management taboo. They are management opportunities. Seeing executives talk about these topics provoke thought and proper dialogue about important issues and people at Etsy are grateful for this kind of open leadership.

4. Facilitate opportunities for genuine connection, not mandated programs

Look beyond a checkbox or an engagement stat. Look at how accepting and supportive your workplace is, whether people of all types feel valued and included, and the degree to which all employees can succeed and thrive.

5. Examine the whole ecosystem of relationships within your company

Look at individual well-being and connections between individuals, not just between the worker and company. When employees are satisfied with their work and workplace, they have the fortitude to move past small things.

What advice do you have for the rising wave of tech talent as they take their early steps forward in building their careers, impact and dreams?

Etsy:

1. Ask yourself what you want your resume to look like when you leave your company

It’s then your job (and your manager’s) to fulfill these aspirational bullet points. When you run out, they should help you find your next challenge -- yes, even if it’s at another company. That is what true career development is: it transcends the company and is about you. We strive to do this at Etsy.

2. Write your future story

If you sat down with your mentors two years from now and you explained to them what you accomplished of the last two years -- what would you say? What would you be proud of? Would they be be proud too?

3. Fight like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong

Have courage to stand your ground and argue your point; always have backbone.  But never, ever, forget that you might be wrong.  Be humble and listen to people when they are speaking -- they might be right, too, and you could learn from them.  Remember this quote: “Nothing I say this day will teach me anything” - Larry King

How does Etsy renew your ongoing commitment to an equal-for-all workplace so this philosophy becomes ever more deeply ingrained in your culture?

Etsy: Across the company, it’s a topic of discussion. Leadership openly discusses this at team and company meetings, at a board level, and in public-facing speeches and other forums.

We talk about it on our hiring pages, people in the company blog about it, and we lead by example as a gender-balanced  senior team.

Readers: What other steps should tech companies take to prioritize diversity as they grow?


About the author: Betsy Mikel is the managing editor of Women 2.0 and runs the content consultancy Aveck. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and a lifelong obsession with French language and culture. When she's not biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym.