Credit: Etsy

How other start-ups can follow Etsy's lead on diversity

The ecommerce site has made significant improvements to gender parity in its workforce.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 29 Apr 2016

More often than not, diversity updates from companies make for depressing reading. We’re constantly hearing about what firms are doing wrong here, so it’s a refreshing change to see Etsy’s recent statistics on the composition of its workforce for 2015.

Around half of its 700-strong workforce are female (54%), but its upper echelons weren't quite so balanced before. Now 50% of the firm’s managers and top leaders are women – for 2014 those figures were at 44% and 37%. A third of the board directors are women and there’s an effort to maintain balance. The report says, ‘if the directors nominated for election at our annual meeting of stockholders are elected, half of our board of directors will be women’.

That makes it pretty unusual for a tech start-up and it's a helpful reminder that any business can make progress here if they implement sensible measures. Perhaps one reason why Etsy has been more sensitive to gender parity in work, compared to other start-ups, is because so many of those who use the marketplace are female. Almost nine out of ten Etsy sellers are women entrepreneurs, which the firm says, has made it ‘naturally pulled towards efforts that address gender equity in the workplace’. That in itself is a lesson – not enforcing arbitrary targets or relying on tokenism because of lacklustre efforts to improve a talent pipeline.

Read more: Is Silicon Valley showing the way on equal pay?

An interesting step Etsy has also taken is changing how it categorises employees – eliminating the gender binary. As of December 2015, 53.9% of employees identified as female, 45.6% as male and 0.5% as other. As 99.5% are male or female, Etsy's progress in improving gender parity is still easy to see. Global director of culture and engagement, Juliet Gorman, said, ‘This reflects our belief that gender lies on a spectrum and follows operational changes we’ve made in the last year, such as converting our bathrooms to be gender inclusive.’ 

Of course, Etsy’s not without fault entirely. Around a third of its technical roles are held by women or those with gender identities other than male, and it acknowledged there was ‘work to do’ there. Its efforts on ethnic diversity and inclusivity also need considerable improvement. There were slight increases in the representation of Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American and biracial employees both overall and in leadership positions, 78.6% of Etsy employees are white (compared to 79% in 2014) and 76.9% of leadership positions are held by white people.

Still, it’s a positive example of a company which is taking the right measures to improve diversity in its workforce. Its improvements, Etsy says, are ‘the results of years of work to build a workplace that genuinely supports everyone, every day, throughout their careers’. It might sound simple and ultimately, it should be.

Five steps to improving diversity in your company from the top down:

1. Partner with organisations and programmes that advance opportunities for minorities and other groups.

2. Provide learning and development resources to all employees on combating unconscious bias.

3. Encourage the growth of employee-organised resource groups which include a range of communities – from parents to LGBTQ (and everything in between).

4. Make relationships with universities and colleges to expand recruiting channels in diverse communities.

5. Design and improve your office spaces for accessibility – whether making restrooms inclusive or offering comfortable facilities for nursing mothers.

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