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We are grateful to Robin Thede, Kenyatta Leal, and John Legend for being our partners and launching Next Chapter with us last week.
Slack Technologies Inc

Next Chapter: A Pilot Program Aiming To Help Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Find Work And Succeed In Tech

Deepti Rohatgi, Slack's Director of Slack for Good and Public Affairs, on working with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Last Mile and John Legend's FREEAMERICA to create opportunity and shift perceptions

Below is an article originally written by Evie Nagy at PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published on August 29, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

"By a show of hands, how many of you in here have made a bad choice," said Kenyatta Leal to a packed all-hands meeting at Slack HQ. The question, echoing the core of Bryan Stevenson's moving biography Just Mercy, was met by a sea of hands raised high.

"Now, I want you to imagine just for a second what life would be like if you were judged the rest of your life for that bad decision."

Leal speaks from experience. As a founding member of The Last Mile and a returned citizen himself, he was in the first class of a program that has, in the nine years since its inception, seen 393 students graduate.

The Last Mile, currently operating in seven prisons across the U.S., teaches students to build websites and applications, all without access to the internet. The program boasts a zero percent recidivism rate — meaning that not one of the people who graduated has reoffended. During incarceration, The Last Mile focuses on three pillars:

  • Education: The full-time program trains incarcerated students on marketable computer coding skills.
  • Experience: Through TLM Works, an in-prison workforce development program, graduates of the coding program gain work experience, earn market wage and create a portfolio of work.
  • Expansion: The coding program is designed to be easily replicated across the country.

And then comes the moment of return, and of taking those skills into the workplace. And for that, there's a need for a fourth pillar — that of partnership with companies who can help turn those skills into a career.

A blueprint for change

"We need to tackle this issue from all different directions," says Leal. "For folks returning back to the community, the stigma that they're impacted by is a huge challenge. We've come up with thousands of ways to make sure a plastic bottle or aluminum can gets a new life, but we don't do anything to make sure someone who gets out of prison does. We need to have that same kind of mindset when it comes to human beings, that same kind of passion and persistence."

Enter Next Chapter: an initiative that we at Slack, in partnership with The Last Mile, the Kellogg Foundation, and FREEAMERICA, have been working on for the past two years to help bring returning citizens back to work and shift perceptions around formerly incarcerated individuals. Through Next Chapter, we are building a year-long apprenticeship program to train and mentor three graduates from The Last Mile — and in doing so, we hope to create a blueprint that other companies will use to train and hire talented people who have been incarcerated.

At a special employee all-hands meeting last week, Leal discussed the hopes for this new program with Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, producer, activist and founder of FREEAMERICA John Legend, comedic actress, writer, sketch and improvisational comedian Robin Thede, and our CEO Stewart Butterfield. This conversation — and the unveiling of Next Chapter itself — was the culmination of an ongoing dialogue at Slack about criminal justice reform, in particular the opportunity to help returning citizens find jobs in tech and business.

We are grateful to Robin Thede, Kenyatta Leal, and John Legend for being our partners and launching Next Chapter with us last week.

There is a pressing need for skilled knowledge workers, one that will only increase moving forward. Coding is something that any smart, hardworking person can learn, given time — and if there was one thing The Last Mile students had a lot of, it was time. We believe that talent is equally distributed. With the right training, we hope to provide opportunities for those who would not only thrive at Slack, but also fill the massive shortage of engineering talent that the tech community needs from an often-overlooked population.

The way forward

Along with The Last Mile and leading experts in the field, we've set out to devise an effort to help these returning citizens find skilled long-term employment and shift perceptions around re-entering individuals.

"This program couldn't just be about providing training, or even job opportunities to our apprentices," says Rodney Urquhart, a member of the Developer Relations team who has been instrumental in getting the program established at Slack. "We've worked hard to build a safe and special culture at Slack, where people who come from different backgrounds can thrive just as well as those who followed traditional paths."

The power of partnership

None of this could have been done without our partners in Next Chapter. Make no mistake about it, we're not positioning ourselves as experts in criminal justice — we make enterprise software. We are in the business of thinking about the way people work, where and how they work, and, of course, the people that do that work. We know how much we have to learn — and we're humbled and grateful to be working with three organizations full of experts.

  • The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with years of experience in the criminal justice system, racial equity issues, and vulnerable communities, have helped to make this program a reality.
  • FREEAMERICA, founded by John Legend, has been working to change the national conversation about and transform America's criminal justice system, and will help amplify our efforts and encourage other companies to consider similar programs.
  • And, of course, The Last Mile, who bring not only the talent and skill of their graduating students — our apprentices — but also the expertise of Kenyatta Leal, whom we will be hosting as our first Re-Entry Director, overseeing the apprenticeship program here at Slack HQ.

We're just getting started. We have much to learn, but we're committed to this, to our three apprentices this year, and to whatever comes next. If you're interested in building a program like this at your company, or to find out more about the Next Chapter, email us at slackforgood@slack.com

Deepti Rohatgi is Slack's Director of Slack for Good and Public Affairs.

1 The Last Mile
2 "Shadow Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System," The Sentencing Project, August 14, 2013.
3 "Recidivism," National Institute of Justice, June 17, 2014.

Image Credit: Garrett Rowland
Slack Technologies Inc

Thinking Outside The Cubicle

Slack's workplace team on designing distraction-free workspaces

Below is an article originally written by Minda Honey for PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published on September 12, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Slack senior director of operations Deano Roberts is like a global worksite whirlwind in reverse: Every place he passes through is left organized, orderly, and as it should be. And next up, Whirlwind Roberts has his sights set on disrupting open floor plans.

Roberts explains why he's done with this longtime office space go-to option. "The open floor plan, which was conceived in the late '50s by Herman Miller, was supposed to be the end-all when it came to collaboration productivity," he says. "But realistically, it works for about 40% of the population. For the other 60%, it causes some anxiety."

He has a few ideas about what makes a truly collaborative, highly productive workplace, and it ain't free cupcakes. "There's a diminishing return on free cupcakes, or kind of cliché fixtures in tech offices, like having a ping-pong table or an ironic beanbag chair or a life-size Jenga sitting next to your desk," he says.

"I would like you to show me the ROI of free cupcakes and ping-pong tables," says Roberts. "Because from what I've experienced, those things don't make you, or help you, do meaningful work. At worst, they're just a distraction."

Instead, Roberts and the workplace team have taken their design cues from Slack, the product, itself. In Slack, features like channels and search mean that information is at everyone's disposal. In that sense, the product's job is to be a resource that provides context and answers. "We want our workspace to do that too," says Roberts.

"If you need something, you should either logically know where to go get it yourself or, if you have to ask us for it, you know we're going to get it to you immediately," he continues. "This isn't to give anyone a sense of entitlement; it's because we want to remove distractions and improve everyone's productivity."

Image courtesy of Scott Schiller

"I would like you to show me the ROI of free cupcakes and ping-pong tables; because from what I've experienced, those things don't make you or help you do meaningful work. At worst, they're just a distraction."

– Deano Roberts, Senior Director of workplace operations at Slack

Ping-pong tables and free cupcakes aside, Roberts mentions that office spaces don't have to be totally devoid of fun or, at the very least, some breathing room. "We have just enough pleasantry," he says. "A wonderful barista bar, a tiny little music room, nap rooms, and nice little spaces that are quaint and interesting."

Even those design details were inspired by how Roberts and his team use Slack. "Probably 95% of my day I'm doing work, and 5% I'm palling around in the doodles channel," he says. "I think we've represented that well by physically accommodating the need for cognitive breaks in the workplace."

Equally passionate about overhauling the open office plan is Kristy Tillman, who recently joined the team as the company's global workplace design lead. In their efforts to make Slack's offices a "cultural beacon of experimentation in the workplace," Tillman says, there are a few unique kinds of spaces that her team has implemented to make the office more inclusive.

There are "tucked-away spaces for introverts who need to have some silence and be a little bit away from the foot traffic," she says. "Bookable rooms and un-bookable rooms for people to either schedule meetings or have impromptu ones. Restrooms are fragrance-free, and we have gender-inclusive ones for our nonbinary and transgender employees. And we're ADA-compliant [for disabilities] where that's needed, too."

Portrait illustrations by Jonny Ruzzo

While the team is thinking through ways of making their shared space even more functional for what Tillman describes as "a pretty wide swatch of folks," there is one group that she'd like to better serve: remote workers and teams in international offices. "I want to make their experience feel more cohesive, especially while working through audio and video," she says. "I want to make them feel like they know what's going on at the home office."

Tillman shares Roberts's vision for designing distraction-free workplaces that cater to the needs, personalities, and work styles of many. She describes being energized by the changes the workplace team is driving and what it could mean for other companies.

"You can dazzle people with really beautiful offices, but what's more important is that we're continuously honing our perspective about how we build our workplaces," says Tillman. "And to me, that is compelling work."

Slack Technologies Inc

How We Approach Professional Learning At Slack

Training to help people do their best work, not be a distraction from it

Below is an article originally written by Kristen Swanson at PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published on November 11, 2016. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

What was the most important thing you learned over the last six months? Picture it in your mind.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Chances are… your mental picture looked nothing like this:

When asked, not many people cite traditional training as their most valuable learning experiences.

In lots of companies, on-the-job training is greeted with a deep, guttural groan. It's a mandatory evil, a long series of tasks that take people away from their core work for little benefit. Given that our mission at Slack is to make people's working lives more productive, these traditional models don't cut it for us.

And so, we're thinking about professional learning differently.

Instead of asking: How do we get people to do…

We ask: How might we build a system where the most people possible can succeed?

To answer this critical question, our learning and development team takes a three step approach:

Step One: Pull, not push

At Slack, virtually every learning experience we offer is optional and open to all. This creates a democratic environment where learners are motivated by curiosity, relevancy, and a deep business need.

Instead of "pushing" lots of mandatory content, we allow people to "pull what they need" from an integration between Slack and Bridge, our learning management system. Each learning experience is brief, targeted, and modular. Given that a "search first culture" is one of the core assumptions underlying Slack (the product) — that is, proactively look to see if the answers you need exist before asking a question — it makes sense for our learning program to reflect that as well.

And, because we can't meet every demand, we offer a professional development stipend for every employee to pursue external programs as needed.

Step Two: Active learning

We offer a wide array of online and in-person learning experiences each month on topics ranging from public speaking to negotiating to handling unconscious biases in the workplace. Whenever possible, we want people to interact with what they're learning.

Repeated research has shown that adults learn best when they are thrust into problem-solving experiences, not piles of content.

At Slack, it's common to find groups of people exchanging feedback, role playing, or building prototypes. This makes it more likely that people will transfer their learning back to their day-to-day work experiences. And, of course, that's really important.

Step Three: Communities of learners

When planning what we'll tackle next, our learning team at Slack is often heard repeating the phrase "the more the merrier!" This is because we need a diverse set of stakeholders to help us determine which types of learning are most needed.

We're always looking for the intersection of learner curiosity and business needs. Because we spend a lot of time talking about our goals as a company, this happens quite naturally.

Every quarter we collaboratively choose which learning experiences will have the biggest impact on our team. Our team of collaborators spans across many departments, roles, and levels.

Once designed, many of our courses are facilitated by internal experts from deep within Slack. For example, our leadership academy is peppered with leaders from inside Slack. Who better than current leaders to understand what leadership means within our company?

Yea, but… Does it work?

Although it's early in our history, our strategies seem to be working. The aggregate net promoter score for our courses is 91, and aggregate comprehension scores are just above 80%. We're also seeing our attendees uplevel their work in their respective roles as reported by their managers. Of course, we have much more to learn, but these early results seem to show the investment we're making is a good one.

The more we learn together, the better we'll be able to tackle what's next.

Kristen Swanson is Slack's Director of Learning and thinks backpacks are better than purses.

Slack Technologies Inc

Why ‘business as usual’ is killing team performance

Research by Deloitte's Center for the Edge reveals that culture, not process, will drive organizations in the future

We've been consumed by the notion that efficiency is the way to generate value for a very long time," says Andrew de Maar, Head of Research and Strategy at Deloitte's Center for the Edge.

According to de Maar and his team's research, leaders are so consumed with process and productivity, they often miss out on championing a much more critical component of long-term success: people.

Technology can be helpful to improving a work group's performance, but it's not the only answer. Ultimately, it's the practices of the people and the way they work, and how they come together to do that work that can either foster a piece of technology's potential or extinguish it.

READ MORE Show less
Slack Technologies Inc

Diversity at Slack

An update on our data, April 2018

Below is an article originally written by PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published via Medium in April, 2018. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

In February, we celebrated Slack's fourth birthday. Today we are more than 1,000 employees strong and fortunate to serve millions of customers around the world. While we've more than quadrupled in size since our very first report, our commitment to inclusion and diversity through rapid growth has never wavered. Success is impossible without our people, and both inclusion and diversity have been core to our values since day one.

As we grow and mature as a company, we strive to bring more rigor and discipline to our reporting. 2017 marked the first year we standardized on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) reporting format. We've followed the same format again this year, which provides a meaningful comparison that helps us see progress as well as opportunities for continuous improvement¹.

Additionally, this year we publicly released our Employer Information Report, or EEO1, which we intend to integrate into our diversity reporting going forward for greater transparency. For additional information, you can download our EEO1 report here.

Where we stand today²

Globally, 44.7% of our workforce is comprised of women, up from 43.5% (+1.2 pts) from our last report in April 2017.

  • 34.3% of people in technical roles are women, up from 29.8% (+4.5 pts) last year.
  • 48.0% of our managers (employees with direct reports) are women, down from 48.1% (-0.1 pts) last year.
  • 30.6% of our leadership (director level and above) are women, up from 28.3% (+2.3 pts) last year.

In the U.S., 12.6% of our workforce is comprised of people from one or more underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds³, up from 11.5% (+1.1 pts) last year.

  • 14.0% of our U.S. managers are from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, up from 10.7% (+3.3 pts) last year.
  • 6% of our U.S. leadership team are from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, up from 5.9% (+0.1 pts) last year.
  • 12.8% of our U.S. technical organization is comprised of people from underrepresented racial and/or ethnic backgrounds, up from 11.4% (+1.4 pts) last year.

In the U.S., we also look at LGBTQ, disability, and veteran status among employees.

  • 8.3% of our U.S. workforce identify as LGBTQ, up from 7.8% (+0.5 pts) last year.
  • 8.7% of our U.S. managers identify as LGBTQ, up from 7.6% (+1.1 pts) last year.
  • 1.4% of our U.S. workforce identify as having a disability, down from 1.7% (-0.3 pts) last year.
  • .85% of our U.S. workforce identify as veterans; this is the first time we are reporting on this, so we do not have a comparison to last year. Our Veterans' ERG is actively involved in raising the visibility of opportunities within the veteran community, and we intend to include this number (and see it grow!) in the years ahead.

Women at Slack

We continue our commitment to pay and promotion equity among people of all genders, and have confirmed equal pay and promotion rates for three years running. Pay and promotion parity is foundational to elevating representation at all levels within our business, and we're pleased to maintain parity while adding a higher percentage of women to the company overall.

We believe part of that growth can be attributed to the work of our Women's Employee Resource Group (ERG), which has significantly grown in size and reach over the past year. Through recruiting and networking events, guest speakers, internal mentoring relationships, workshops and more, the ERG has created new opportunities for women to advance their skills, elevate their profiles and bring more talented women into our organization. We are grateful to the leaders of the Women's ERG — their time and dedication is essential to the success and health of this organization.

Representation and inclusion at Slack

To better serve our increasingly global and diverse customer base, we must recruit, hire and retain a workforce that looks like them. That's not just about compiling numbers, but ensuring we have an environment that's open and inclusive and promotes equality of opportunity — because we want to support the growth of underrepresented people at every stage of their careers in technology. That's not a switch you flip; it's an ongoing, continuous effort that requires input from across backgrounds, teams, functions and levels.

One way we work to address this is high engagement with our employee resource groups. In addition to the Women's and Veterans' ERGs mentioned above, we have active ERGs centered on people of color ("Earthtones"), people of different abilities ("Abilities"), and people who are LGBTQ ("Out"). These groups are actively involved in influencing diversity and inclusion at Slack and their leaders regularly meet to share best practices and feedback, and take action where needed.

This commitment is also reflected in how we're engaging in our communities. A few examples:

  • In addition to bringing in (and hiring) Year Up interns, we donated $10,000 to the organization last year as part of our commitment via the Slack Shop, where we rotate benefiting charities every six months. We'll make a similar donation to Code.org this year.
  • We're excited to announce a new partnership with Code2040 to support Black and Latinx computer science majors and recent grads as they take on their first software engineering jobs. Slack will partner with Code2040 on curriculum development, mentoring, program delivery, and event hosting. This is a brand new and highly experimental program, and we are eager to learn from the experience and iterate for subsequent future programming.
  • We've also partnered with the Transgender Law Center to provide the initial funding for the creation of a comprehensive ally skills curriculum designed to improve companies' ability to recruit, hire, include, and retain transgender and gender nonconforming employees. The curriculum that is created will also be made available across the entire tech sector.

These are all key steps — but by no means the only ones — that can help us learn new and expanded ways to identify, recruit and elevate talent across underrepresented demographics.

Looking ahead

As Slack continues to expand, our commitment to transparency, inclusion and diversity will remain a priority. We strongly believe that to move the needle, we must focus on recruiting and retaining the best talent in the world. We must get more underrepresented people in the door and put them in a position to excel at our company. We must focus on building and sustaining an environment where everyone can thrive.

In addition to reflecting diversity within our ranks, we must also continue to expand the inclusiveness and accessibility of our product as well. Last year, we localized Slack into four new languages — Spanish, French, German and Japanese — with more to come in 2018. In addition to localizing, we made accessibility improvements, including a re-crafted zoom experience to better help people with visual impairments use Slack, and we released a new keyboard navigation model for people who cannot use a mouse, or simply prefer to use Slack by keyboard.

Our mission is to make people's working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive: We want this for our customers and we want this for all our employees as well. Growth is not an excuse to compromise our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We want Slack to always be a place where people of different backgrounds can succeed and do the best work of their lives. Our goal from the beginning has been to avoid becoming a place where underrepresented groups exit the technology industry; instead, we hope to foster the next generation of tech leaders and entrepreneurs. We don't want to be a place where people give up on their ambition, but rather a place where people can accelerate their career experience and thrive.

Our work is far from complete, but we're committed to learning, improving, partnering and investing in the effort to keep moving this forward.

¹ Other than gender, we have limited our demographic reporting to United States-based employees in order to adhere to local laws in the other countries in which we operate.

² Slack Diversity Data as of December 31, 2017

³ "URM" includes Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaska Native.

The vast majority of employees do not choose to disclose whether or not they identify as having a disability or as veterans; the data we share here is based on the small number who do disclose this information.

We report today on women specifically as a reflection of our current data, but we know and support the fact that gender is not binary, and collect self-reported information on gender identity.

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