2019 State of Diversity & Inclusion in Plaid Engineering


Updated on January 22, 2020

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.

Internally at Plaid, we’ve been very open about our diversity stats and what we are doing to build an inclusive community. We want to extend this openness outside of Plaid and regularly share our latest stats, some learnings on what’s worked for us, and our plans to continue building a more diverse engineering organization. As one of the engineering managers here, I’ll also share some of my own opinions to help contextualize our diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts beyond just the facts and numbers.

Before we dive in, I’d like to first say a bit about the goal and scope of this post. My primary goal is to share an honest and complete view of D&I at Plaid. I don’t want this to be a self-congratulatory post that only highlights the positive wins we’ve had. Instead, I want to be clear about where we still have a lot of work to do, in addition to recognizing the progress we’ve made. Secondly, while our company wide diversity numbers are quite a bit higher than that in engineering, this post will cover diversity within engineering, as opposed to diversity at the company level.

The post will cover:

  • Diversity statistics on Plaid engineering
  • Inclusion statistics on Plaid engineering
  • What we did in 2019
  • What we are doing in 2020

It’s hard to summarize this post into a short takeaway, but here’s my best attempt: we’ve made a lot of progress in 2019 to build a more diverse team and make everyone feel welcomed at Plaid, but we are not where we want to be yet, and we have some concrete action items to get us closer in 2020.

Let’s dive in.


Diversity Stats

Nothing speaks louder than the numbers themselves, so here’s where we are as of December of 2019 based on self-reported statistics from our last quarterly engineering survey.

Gender

I want to take a moment and acknowledge the progress we’ve made in the last couple of years:

  • As you can see from the above graph, we started 2018 significantly behind the industry average for gender diversity. When I joined Plaid in April of 2018, I was the 3rd woman out of ~50 engineers. We’ve done a lot to get our engineering team’s gender ratio near the industry average of 16%. However, this number is still far from good and the industry average is not a high bar for us to hold ourselves to.
  • Additionally, when I joined Plaid, there were zero female engineering managers. By the end of 2018, we were at 37% (3 out of 8), and by the end of 2019, we are at 25% (5 out of 20). I’m particularly proud of this statistic because (1) not many companies (even those with high overall diversity statistics) have been able to build a diverse management team, and (2) having diverse voices in management means we are able to consider diverse perspectives when setting up processes that impact the entire engineering team.

Underrepresented Groups

We define URG (underrepresented group) as women, Black, Latinx, American Indian, Alaska Native, and LGBTQ.

Based on survey data, 27% of our engineering team identify as URG, 64% of the team identify as non-URG, and 9% are unspecified.

I wasn’t able to pull historical URG data due to changes in how we do surveys, but we plan to report URG trends moving forward. Additionally, since there isn’t an industry-wide definition of URGs, I wasn’t able to find industry engineering URG statistics to compare against. Looking at a few companies that have shared their recent engineering stats (Gusto at 32%, Airbnb at ~27%, Facebook at ~30%), we are comparable but on the lower end of the range.

Other diversity statistics

Standard representation metrics aren’t a comprehensive view of diversity. For that reason, we also look at a lot of other dimensions:


Inclusion stats

Improving diversity starts with building an inclusive culture. We measure our progress on building this inclusive culture through our quarterly engineering surveys.

Ideally, we would prefer sharing URG inclusion statistics over gender statistics, since gender is only one aspect of diversity. However, in our recent surveys, 9% of our engineering team answered “unspecified” to the question “Do you identify as an underrepresented minority?” This prevents us from confidently drawing conclusions from the URG split on these questions.

Here are some stats that made me especially proud of our engineering team:

As a side note, having close to 95% overall positive responses to “I would recommend Plaid as a great place to work” across both genders is 😍.

With all that said, our inclusion stats aren’t all sunshine and roses. In particular, there were two questions from our last survey where the female engineers’ responses were meaningfully more negative than the male engineers’ responses:

I’ll talk about why and what we are doing to address these in the “What are we doing in 2020?” section below.


What did we do in 2019?

Even though the stats above are engineering specific, when it comes to D&I, many of the efforts do not have an isolated impact on just one function, so I’ll cover some of the company wide efforts as well.

Diversity & inclusion committees

Across the company, we have 4 grassroots diversity and inclusion committees: events, community involvement, internal engagement, and recruiting. These committees have led initiatives like:

  • organizing a series of D&I lightning talks where Plaid employees each give a 5 minute talk on their backgrounds
  • running the regular company-wide inclusion survey
  • reviewing the recruiting process for biases
  • hosting Girls Who Code and Women Who Code
  • ... and many more that deserve their own blog posts

Recruiting funnel diversity

Without top-of-recruiting-funnel diversity, it’s nearly impossible to build a diverse engineering team. We’ve hosted events, organized career fair booths, and given talks at Grace Hopper in both 2018 and 2019. However, going to URG conferences and meetups alone isn’t going to address the top-of-funnel diversity problem. In 2019, we piloted running two diversity sourcing sprints, during which all of the sourcing efforts for engineering are dedicated to URG candidates. Across these two sourcing sprints, we were able to engage 47 engineering candidates, extend 5 offers, and get 2 offer accepts.

We’ve also significantly ramped up hiring on our remote engineering team. Hiring outside of the three cities where we have engineering offices (San Francisco, New York, Salt Lake City) helps us tap into an expanded talent pool with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. We’ve already seen some impressive successes in this effort: around 50% of the engineers we hired in 2019 for the remote engineering roles are URG.

Measuring diversity and inclusion

To measure our recruiting diversity efforts, we built a data pipeline to export all the interview data from our applicant tracking system to our data analytics and visualization platform. This enables our recruiting and operations team to evaluate our recruiting pipeline diversity stats at every step of the process, and proactively flag and address any potential biases that might arise.

To measure our progress on inclusion efforts, we asked people to rate specific dimensions about inclusion in our regular company-wide surveys, such as: (1) “I feel like I belong at Plaid”, (2) “I can voice a contrary opinion without fear of negative consequences”, (3) “Perspectives like mine are included in decision-making”, (4) “I believe that the leadership team is committed to diversity”, (5) “Plaid is making progress with diversity initiatives”, etc.

Training and awareness

In 2019, we ran our annual unconscious bias training and sexual harassment training, our biannual performance reviewing training, and our first bias on communication workshop. These training sessions reinforce the idea that everyone has unconscious biases, and we need to recognize these biases so we can minimize the effects of these biases in our interactions with others and performance evaluations.

Community groups

Starting Q4 2018, we’ve been running a quarterly “women in EPDS (eng, product, design, support) inclusion retrospective.” Every quarter, we get lunch together and chat informally about what’s going well and what can be improved with respect to our experiences as women in a male dominated field. The moderator then anonymizes the notes and aggregates feedback to present to EPDS leaders to increase awareness and advocate for concrete action items.


What are we doing in 2020?

Based on our inclusion survey results and team composition data, our focus areas for 2020 are:

  1. Move the needle on including diverse perspectives in discussions and decision making
  2. Continue to improve our top-of-funnel sourcing diversity
  3. Build a strong, supportive community of women and URGs

Diverse perspectives in decision making

After getting our survey results about inclusion, we followed up with female engineers via an anonymous Google Form to try and get at the root cause for the two questions where we saw a significant gender discrepancy.

From these follow up discussions, we learned that, 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. This is not a problem unique to Plaid, but we are affected by it nonetheless. Since many decisions are made in meetings, we came to the conclusion that making sure everyone feels comfortable participating in these meeting discussions is a high leverage opportunity of improvement for us.

We then brainstormed some best practices for meeting organizers to encourage participation from everyone, such as:

  • sharing a meeting agenda ahead of time so everyone has time to prepare
  • having more structured meetings where we go around the room and everyone is expected to speak up
  • making space / silence in between discussion topics so people can digest the information and participate without rushing
  • explicitly prompting someone who hasn’t spoken yet for their opinion
  • recognizing and calling out when someone interrupts another person
  • offer the option for people to follow up after the meeting or chat 1:1
  • rotating ownership for recurring meetings

However, making a meeting inclusive isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the sole responsibility of the meeting organizer, but rather a responsibility of everyone present in the meeting. As a result, we are going to also do a broader engineering wide training in 2020 on the principles and concrete tools to ensure balanced participation in group meetings.

Top-of-funnel diversity

In addition to the survey-specific follow ups, there are quite a few other diversity and inclusion initiatives planned for 2020, driven by people across the engineering team.

  • We are going to continue our diversity sourcing sprints. We believe that investing in our top-of-funnel diversity sourcing efforts is the highest leverage way for us to hire a diverse team of engineers at Plaid. We prioritize diversity in sourcing outside of these diversity sourcing sprints as well, but having these sprints is a good way to hold us accountable and double down on these efforts.
  • We are piloting a 6-month apprentice engineering program to run an extended internship-like program for bootcamp graduates. Many people aren’t given the opportunity to learn about the field of computer science by the time they enter college, and they often take a non-traditional path later in life to become a software engineer. We want to set up a program that would best evaluate and support these engineers. There are lots of potential failure modes with an apprentice program like this, such as creating an “up-or-out” dynamic or fostering imposter syndrome, but we believe that with a well-structured program and thoughtful mentorship, we can mitigate these failure modes and make these engineers successful at Plaid.

Community for women and URGs

  • We are running an internal speaker series in each of our offices that’s focused on diversity and inclusion: why it’s important, and how the entire company can do their part in building the type of workplace that welcomes everyone, regardless of background.
  • In our most recent hack week (called Plaiderdays) in November, a group of employees drafted an ERG (employee resource group) guideline to ensure URG leaders have the resources they need to support their work and to drive change across functions at Plaid. To kick it off, our first two ERGs will be a community for those who identifty as women/non-binary and a community for LGBTQ+.
  • Historically, our diversity and inclusion efforts have focused heavily on women, because it’s the largest URG and the most easily identifiable. We’ll be extending this community to include anyone that self identifies as being a part of an URG.

Stay tuned for 2020

There’s a lot of work ahead to build a more welcoming engineering team for current and future Plaids. We firmly believe that our investments on diversity and inclusion will allow us to build even better products for our developer customers and end users, and we can’t wait to continue our momentum going into the new decade.

I’m really excited about the concrete action items we have planned for 2020. Going forward, we plan to share our diversity and inclusion stats, report our progress, and talk about our future action items on a yearly basis. If you have any suggestions for us, send us a note at blog@plaid.com.

Stay tuned for the State of Diversity and Inclusion in Plaid Engineering post next year!