What I Do: A Year of Diversity Work at Pandora

A reflection on a year of diversity work and the story behind diversity numbers at Pandora.

By Lisa Lee (Senior Diversity Manager, Pandora)

This post originally appeared on Medium. I joined Pandora in May of 2014 to help the company reflect the diversity of its audience, musicians, and local communities. I had been thinking about how to use tech as a vehicle to drive equality for some time (okay, years) and was looking for a partner in, uh, solidarity. So when I had my first interview at Pandora, it was like that moment in the film Jerry Maguire when Renée Zellweger said to Tom Cruise, “You had me at hello.” (Except with Pandora, it was more like they had me at “Let’s do this.”) Last year, we were one of the first ten publicly-traded tech companies to release our workforce demographic data. Today, we are updating those numbers. If you just want to look at the data, you can stop reading now, and just click that link. But, I’d like to tell you the story behind the numbers. As I look at our moderate progress, I know we have a long road ahead of us. Yet, I am not deterred because I am confident that we have strengthened our foundation. We’ve gone to the drawing board and we’ve been (re)building everything with diversity in mind — tools, processes, and most importantly, the way that we think about happy employees.

Doing “diversity work” means, fundamentally, the changing of mindsets.

It is not about looking at diversity as a problem that desperately needs to be “fixed.” Nor is it complaining about how broken the pipelines are. It’s about seeing diversity as a daily opportunity: to be truly inclusive in the way that we grow, engage, and retain our strongest asset — people.

At Pandora, we focus on these opportunities for three reasons:

  1. Community: Pandora is at the center of some of the most diverse communities in America. When we mirror our communities, we serve them better.
  2. Innovation: Research shows that diverse teams are more innovative. And when you’re in the business of bringing the best in music to millions, there’s nothing that is more sacred than fresh ideas.
  3. Personalization: We believe in the power of the personal. In the same way that we give every listener their own radio station, we want every single employee to feel that their workplace accommodates their individual needs, so they can perform their best and be extraordinary with us.

So with all that said, here are our focus areas, and some examples of how we’re tackling them.

GROWTH

Pandora is growing fast, meaning that we have an immediate opportunity to attract underrepresented talent. What we’re doing: We have both technical and nontechnical positions in our internship program. This past summer, we hosted a class of 74 interns — over half of them people of color. Also, over half were in nontechnical roles. This is significant because tech companies need more than just technical talent. Not pursuing a STEM degree shouldn’t rule out anyone’s opportunity to contribute to a cutting-edge tech company.

ENGAGEMENT

We want to do more than just invest in our community; we want to be part of it. What we’re doing: Giving back through actions, not just donations. Every full-time employee has up to 40 hours of paid volunteer time off (VTO) a year to work with any cause. This was important to our founders early on, and has become a fundamental part of our company culture. This past year, our employees have used their VTO to work with organizations like The Level Playing Field SMASH Program, Year Up, and Ally Coalition.

RETENTION

We want to nurture a culture where all employees can thrive. What we’re doing: We work on retention now — not later. Attracting diverse talent and developing that talent for leadership go hand-in-hand. This year we sponsored two of our senior leaders of color to participate in the Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) Career Advancement Program, where they will work with a community of their peers to grow and excel in their careers. (In addition to working with MLT for retention, we’ve also grown Pandora with MLT talent who have become leaders, role models, and mentors. You can read more about our partnership with MLT here.) A lot of things have changed at Pandora since our founding. But the one thing that has not changed, and in fact has strengthened over time, is our understanding of the “personal.” What is personal is powerful. Today, we are not just building a destination for our listeners to feel at home, but for every single one of our 1,700 employees as well. As we continue to build, I hope you will join us, and push us to lead by example. Because at the end of the day, this is about building a better future. Keep Listening, Lisa PS: The SZA station. Seriously. Wow.

More on diversity at Pandora


About the guest blogger: Lisa Lee leads diversity initiatives at Pandora. Every day, she has  the privilege to help a beloved company reflect the diversity of its listeners, artists, and local communities. She's a self-proclaimed diversity geek who spends 90% of her time thinking about how to use tech as a vehicle to drive equality. Follow her on Twitter at @rrrlisarrr.