Originally published in Bulldog Reporter.
As Diversity & Inclusion efforts enter another year, so too do the accusatory news stories. As predictable as the tech sector’s diversity report releases are the ensuing media reports, which invariably chastise the companies for their disappointingly low results and despair over the state of the industry’s homogenous workforce. Nearly every tech company – from Facebook to Salesforce – that has released a diversity report has been subject to same criticism from the public and versions of the same story from the media.
So it particularly surprising when, a few weeks ago, eBay released their diversity numbers for the first time to little fanfare. The results weren’t particularly noteworthy. The company’s findings echoed the outcomes of other Silicon Valley giants: workforces that were over indexed white and male and hugely lacking in African American, Latinx, and biracial employees.
However, what was surprising was the media’s near total silence on these discouragingly low results. While other tech companies have been blasted with headlines like Fortune’s “Apple’s Leadership Team Is Just As Male, May Be More White Than It Was in 2015,” and USA Today’s, “Microsoft 2015 diversity numbers flat, woman fall,” eBay’s report was covered by a single, relatively neutrally titled Fortune article, “eBay’s First Diversity Chief Discusses What It’ll Take to Move the Needle.”
How did eBay manage to escape the media’s – and the public’s – approbation and disdain? The answer is a cleverly managed communications strategy that took control of the situation before the report was every made public.
eBay didn’t wait for a major scandal or public pressure to release their diversity numbers. Instead, they created a calculated plan to issue a report one year after separating from parent company Paypal. Unlike other companies, who released their reports in response to public demand, eBay took control early and made their release a planned part of an overall strategy for addressing diversity at the company beginning on day one.
What’s more, eBay didn’t wait for the public to point out that their numbers are low. Instead, their report acknowledged that they had work to do and included not one or two but, (by our count), an impressive 15 initiatives and strategies for advancing D & I in their recruiting and hiring processes, in their work environments, and in their products. Instead of making vague promises, eBay named specific partners like Code2040 and Unitive and outlined the ways they will help eBay improve over the next year.
This strategy helped guide the conversation away from the bad results and towards the proactive steps the company is taking. While Fortune’s RaceAhead newsletter spent little more than a paragraph on eBay’s actual diversity data, they devoted a full four paragraphs to a discussion with Chief Diversity Officer Damien Hooper-Campbell and his approach to incorporating diversity into the company. By the end of the article, readers felt hopeful about the future, instead of disappointed with the current report.
While the good timing and an intentional release were key parts of eBay’s success, nothing can replace real action. We’re hopeful that behind eBay’s clever rollout, there is a workable strategy that will yield the kind of improvements we’ve been hoping to see tech companies make for years.