February 19, 2021
2020 State of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in Plaid Engineering
Building amazing products that power thousands of fintech apps requires us on the Plaid engineering team to empathize with the developers and end users who build and use these apps. To do that well, we need to have a team whose diversity reflects the millions of people Plaid supports.
At the beginning of last year, we launched an engineering blog post series to share our diversity and inclusion stats, report our progress, and talk about our future action items on a yearly basis, starting with the inaugural 2019 State of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in Plaid Engineering post.
2020 has certainly been a year of many ups and downs. It’s also a year where we’ve seen lots of injustice in the world around us, followed by an extraordinary showcase of courage in the Black Lives Matter protests. To make our small part of the world better, we’d like to report back on what we’ve done at Plaid in the last year on the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) front, as well as our plans going forward. Similar to the last post, we’ll break this one down into 4 sections:
Diversity statistics on Plaid engineering
Inclusion statistics on Plaid engineering
What we did in 2020
What we are doing in 2021
Looking back, I’m proud of the year-over-year progress we’ve made as a team to increase the representation of women in engineering. Our gender diversity is comparable to other companies that share their representation statistics for engineering (e.g. Affirm at 21%, Airbnb at 22%, Facebook at 24%, Square at 19%). That said, our goal isn’t to be at the industry average, but to become a leader in diversity in tech, and there’s still much work to do.
Beyond the overall statistics, there are two additional statistics that tell a more complete story on gender representation:
Within engineering management, 29% of our managers are women. Since 2018, we’ve had more than 25% female engineering managers every year. Since managers are often responsible for internal processes and external recruiting, I’m really proud of our continued ability to maintain a diverse management team as we grew our engineering organization.
Within our experienced ICs (E5+), 11% of them are women. As you can imagine, we want this percentage to be much higher. It’s really important that there are role models on the individual contributor path for female engineers to follow. This is because having role models shows us what’s possible: role models teach by mentorship and by demonstration. Experienced IC representation is something that we are paying close attention to and hope to close the gap in the future (see the “what we are doing in 2021” section below).
We define URG (underrepresented group) as Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, two or more races that include one of the above, and LGBTQ+.
We do not have a historical comparison here, since our historical 2019 URG statistics (27%) included women in the URG definition. We’ve since updated our definition to more accurately recognize potential differences in their experiences.
URG representation is another area where we have a lot of opportunity to improve. Much of our URG efforts are currently focused on inclusion and belonging -- by creating a work environment where everyone is included and belongs, our hope is to be able to convince women and URGs that Plaid is a place where they can meaningfully grow their career.
Improving diversity starts with having an inclusive culture. We primarily measure our progress on inclusivity through our quarterly pulse surveys. That said, there is another (albeit often noisy) metric that captures one of the consequences of our inclusion, belonging, and equity efforts: retention rate.
This past year, our retention rate for women in engineering is 95%, compared to the overall 93% across engineering (unfortunately we do not have URG retention rates since URG data is only available in the anonymized pulse survey). Setting aside the fact that our retention rate for women is slightly higher than men, 90+% retention rate is something that I am quite proud of. This gives me assurance that we are a work environment in which many of us choose to continue developing their careers at Plaid.
The pulse survey results corroborate the story as told by our high retention rate. Most Plaids, including women and URG engineers, would recommend Plaid as a great place to work and feel like they can continue growing their careers here.
It also confirms that we still have work to do on the belonging front: only 74% of women felt like they belong at Plaid (compared to 79% across engineering). More specifically, the survey surfaces a specific area that we can continue to improve: supporting and encouraging engineers, especially women engineers, to speak up and disagree with others. Compared to last year, we’ve seen meaningful year-over-year improvements on this front: only 64% of women felt comfortable speaking up in our 2019 pulse survey, compared to 71% in the most recent survey. I’m glad we are on a positive trajectory here, but we still have work to do.
What did we do in 2020?
Next up I’d like to highlight some of the engineering-specific and company-wide efforts we’ve put in place to improve diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) at Plaid, so that we can share what we learned with other companies looking to invest in DEIB.
A key focus of 2020 was around internal transparency around our DEIB efforts. Since going remote due to COVID-19, providing employees with transparency around initiatives that are top of mind for everyone is more important than ever. Starting 2020 Q2, We now share quarterly OKRs around promoting diversity in recruiting, language audits of job descriptions, pulse survey scores, etc. In our engineering, product, design, and support meetings, the function leads also share DEIB scorecards with everyone in the org. This helps ensure both visibility and accountability on any effort that we take on.
Recruiting funnel diversity
Building off of the momentum from 2019, we continued to run quarterly diversity sourcing sprints to complement our regular sourcing. Our recruiting team reached out to close to 2500 candidates and engaged over 150 of them. Over the course of 2020, 38% of our engineering hires were women or URG.
Additionally, we launched our Plaid Apprenticeship Program, which my colleagues Eric and Ryan wrote about a few months ago. While the first class of the program is still ongoing, we’ve already received really positive feedback from the engineers involved. We are also planning to kick off hiring for the next class of apprentice engineers in Q3 for a cohort start in September.
Inclusion meeting training
In our 2019 blog post, we shared that only 64% of women feel comfortable speaking up and disagreeing with others (compared to 82% of men). After following up with some female engineers then, we concluded: “compared to male engineers, female engineers at Plaid are more likely to have a stricter confidence threshold for expressing their opinions in meetings, and thus speak up only if they are sure that they are the subject matter experts. The fact that many of our female engineers are more junior in terms of Plaid tenure further exacerbates this… Since many decisions are made in meetings, … making sure everyone feels comfortable participating in these meeting discussions is a high leverage opportunity of improvement for us.”
As a result of this, my colleague Kent ran an engineering-wide training on “running inclusive meetings.” He shared a lot of actionable tips on how to recognize when someone might hesitate to speak up, and how every meeting participant can help.
At the end of 2019, a group of Plaids got together and started working on kicking off community groups within Plaid. Over the course of 2020, we created our first four Plaid Community Groups: Plaids of Color, PLGBTQ+, Women+, and Plaids of Faith. We’ve found that leadership sponsorship, budget allocation, and the sense of community associated with PCGs really helped create space and support for these historically underrepresented groups in tech.
We’ve also renamed and updated the “recruiting” dimension in our engineering growth guide to “community.” The engineering growth guide is the framework we use to think about impact, career growth, and evaluation of engineers at Plaid. Recognizing and rewarding work that builds an inclusive workplace helps us encourage engineers to take on impactful DEIB related projects, in addition to technical projects.
On the technical side, we implemented a Neutral Term Policy across our technical stack. We deprecated terms like whitelist/blacklist (replaced with allowlist/denylist), master/slave database (replaced with primary/secondary), whitehat/blackhat (replaced with ethical/unethical). Eliminating terms with historically racist roots is an easy but significant way for us to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion.
Another positive outcome of our DEIB investment is our Product Inclusion Principles. We developed these principles to enable us to build amazing and inclusive products. These three principles underscore our dedication to weaving inclusive practices into how we build at Plaid:
Maximize access for all
Proactively recognize and prevent bias
Think through outcomes
To hold ourselves accountable to these principles, we’re establishing recurring Inclusion Reviews for each of our products, in which we ask ourselves questions like “How does this product maximize access across institutions, developers and consumers?” and “How could/does bias appear in the development of this product?” We then use that data to determine concrete next steps to increase product inclusivity. We ran our first Inclusion Review at the end of last year. In 2021, we will roll them out to the rest of Plaid’s product portfolio.
What are we doing in 2021?
Much of 2021 will be focused on the continuation and expansion of 2020 efforts: DEIB OKRs and scorecards, diversity sourcing sprints, engineering apprenticeship program, Plaid Community Groups, product inclusion reviews, … These aren’t “one and done” programs. In order for them to continue having a positive impact on DEIB, we need to further invest in them as we grow.
A focus area that we haven’t specifically focused on is women and URG representation in experienced IC positions. Role models are one of the most compelling ways for someone to learn, and having role models that look like you makes it that much more powerful. In 2021, we are going to continue our recruiting focus on overall diversity across all levels. In addition to investing in overall diversity, we will also continue to provide support for engineers across Plaid to help them grow their careers and increase their influence. Over time, we are optimistic that our continued investments will lead to increased diversity within our experienced ICs, as well as overall engineering.
As we mentioned above, there’s still a lot of room for us to do better on building a sense of belonging and helping everyone feel comfortable speaking up and disagreeing with others. Looking at our pulse survey results from the last two years, we’ve been able to close some of the gap here with the inclusive meeting training we did in early 2020. In addition to that, we plan to reach out and chat with different groups and PCGs to gather more qualitative feedback about where we might still be falling short, so we can come up with a plan to address them. If you have any suggestions or ideas, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, we’d like to give a shout out to companies like Affirm, Gusto, Square, and others for also publicly sharing both statistics and lessons from their DEIB efforts. By consistently sharing our story and our numbers year over year, we hope to encourage more and more companies to start embracing external transparency and accountability. At the end of the day, the only way to truly move the needle is for us as an industry to learn from each other and make sure everyone in tech feels like they belong, no matter what they look like.
Stay tuned for our next DEIB report in a year!