CEO’s Firm Helping Diversify Tech Industry’s Workforce

By Queenie Wong
San Jose Mercury News.


By the time a sexual harassment or discrimination case reached her desk, lawyer Joelle Emerson was frustrated that so much had already gone wrong.

“I started seeing these patterns emerging and issues that my clients were facing in their workplaces that were repeating over and over again,” Emerson said. “I was really interested in seeing if there was a way to disrupt those patterns early on.”

In 2014, she started Paradigm, a company that is helping more than a dozen tech companies including the photo-sharing site Pinterest make their workforce more diverse.

Emerson sat down with the San Jose Mercury News to chat about how the firm is trying to solve Silicon Valley’s diversity problems before they hit the courtroom. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Describe what Paradigm does to make a company’s workforce more diverse.

A: We start with an assessment and look at what we see as the four stages in which companies have a significant opportunity to create better diversity and inclusion outcomes. Those four stages are attract, select, develop and retain. We give the company a report that identifies the biggest barriers at each of those stages, let them know where we think they should focus and recommend strategies and interventions based on social science research. Piece two is that we partner with companies on an ongoing way, have a monthly retainer model and they pay us to help them implement those strategies.

Q: How did your partnership with Pinterest start?

A: Our first project with them looked at their recruiting process, including ways to attract more diverse candidates and to create a more level playing field in the interview process and hopefully hire more diverse folks. Some of the things they’re doing as a result of that is they’re starting to recruit at different schools that have more diverse candidates. They’ve gotten rid of the white boarding component of their technical interview. Engineers typically code on a computer but in this case, they’re given a challenge and they’re asked to solve it by standing up at a white board and actually writing code. The problem with that is that’s not what engineers ever do on a regular basis. When you put people in a confrontational situation like that, the people who are going to perform well are the people who are already the most confident.

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