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Learn from the leaders at Slack

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter where we share the latest tips, tools and insights to help you stay informed about the modern tech office. Today: the power dynamics of Slack, organizing online, and the realities of being Hispanic/Lantinx in the workplace.

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—Amber Burton, Reporter (twitter | email)

At The Office

How Slack thinks about sharing power

Power dynamics are common in the workplace. But power is not something that anyone can give you, Halimah Jones, a learning manager at Slack and head of the Mahogany employee resource group for Black people, told Protocol.

Questions around power came up a lot in my conversations for my story about how employee resource groups may undermine union organizing efforts. That is, how much power do employee resource groups really have to affect change? In a joint conversation with Jones and Slack VP of People, Dawn Sharifan, the two shared their thoughts on power dynamics at Slack.

Power is always perceived, Jones said. But what's most important, she added, is how people show up assuming they have power.

  • "If you don't think you have power, you will give up," she said. "You won't have the hard conversations. You won't push the business further."
  • At Slack, Jones said she perceives Mahogany as having power in the workplace.
  • "I think that our leadership team at Slack makes a conscious effort to give us the space to declare our power," Jones said. "And then when we are not in the room, they will demonstrate our power for us."

Workplaces sometimes implement a top-down communication style, where leaders don't receive input or feedback from their direct reports. At Slack, that's not the case.

  • "There's never a perception that you can't bring something up or that leaders cannot come to you," Jones said. "I've had many leaders come to me and asked me about things as a co-lead for Mahogany, and it has always been out of a place of, 'I want to use my power correctly and I want to know how to do this sustainably for myself and do this consistently, and make sure I'm doing this correctly in a way that shows up for you, not for me.'"
  • "As individuals, it's in those moments of declaring that you don't know something that demonstrates the amount of power that different identities have," Jones said. "And it's in those moments that it demonstrates that you know you always have room to grow. Nobody's ever gonna be perfect."

Sharifan, who is also the executive sponsor of the LGBTQ+ ERG at Slack, told Protocol working at the company has "fundamentally changed the way I think about power and sharing power."

When Sharifan first joined Slack, she'd feel her stomach sink when she'd see a notification on the public diversity channel, she told Protocol. She feared someone would ask her a question she wouldn't be able to answer. Today, Sharifan sees those scenarios where she doesn't know the answer as an opportunity to share power.

  • "When you are born and bred in an HR profession, that's not necessarily something that you learn," Sharifan said. "I hope that what we can do is pass that forward to other companies because I don't think it's a super common thing to think about sharing of power. Slack has gotten benefit from being known as a diverse company, for supporting diversity, so I don't want to pretend like that's not the case. And in exchange for that, I think there really does have to be a sincere attempt at having conversations and sharing power. It doesn't mean we don't mess it up and screw stuff up, but we try it in a different way than I've seen before."

Despite recent diversity reports detailing how Slack has struggled to retain underrepresented minorities, and how Slack launched an internal investigation into an executive who allegedly gave preferential treatment to white employees, there is still a perception that Slack is one of the few tech companies doing diversity the "right" way.

  • "The only reason we are here today is because of all the steps we have taken along the way," Sharifan said. "There are a lot of people that will come to me, HR people specifically, who say, 'You seem to do diversity right, how do you do that right?' Well I just want to say that it's a step in the culmination of this journey, it's messing up along the way. But it's trying and risking. And I think that's what Slack has done, sometimes well and sometimes not. But I think to have a conversation that actually means something that's at the highest levels (of the company) is because of all the people that have come before us."

— Megan Rose Dickey (twitter | email)

Protocol Event

The new benefits package

In-office work perks don't appear to be coming back anytime soon. Gone are the days when employees were encouraged to get their teeth cleaned, go to the gym and eat from a free buffet at lunch in the office. So what kind of perks can you offer to employees that now work across multiple locations? Protocol speaks with a panel of HR experts, investors and execs on Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. PT to discuss the most engaging benefits to hire and retain talent in today's work world.

RSVP here.


What are the strategies and tools that CEOs need to consider as they plan for what comes next with their workforce? A Forrester report on CEO responsibility and the adaptive workforce. Check out The CEO's Guide to the Future of Work.

Learn more

Work Spot

How workplace organizers migrated online

In the age of worker surveillance it might come as a surprise that organizers have moved their efforts online. But with the rise in popularity of tools like Slack and Discord more employees are gathering, connecting and commiserating virtually about job frustrations. My colleagues Lizzy Lawrence and Anna Kramer did a deep dive into how tech workers began organizing with tools once designed for purely work or social purposes. While Discord was originally built as a platform for gamers to talk to one another, it didn't take long for tech workers to appropriate the app for their own benefit. Discord appeals to workers because it provides a certain level of privacy not offered on company-owned communications platforms. Facebook groups, Slack and Signal have also become popular for confidential discussion over the past several years. "It wouldn't be possible for us to organize at all if these tools weren't available," Willy Solis, a lead organizer with Gig Workers Collective, told Protocol.

Read the full story here.

Today's Tips & Tools

Today's tool comes from Workplace Reporter Michelle Ma in continuation of Protocol's Salary Series. This week Ma talked to experts to find out why you might consider offering your employees a salary calculator to evaluate their own pay.

Here's an example of the salary calculator from document startup Coda.

Offering workers the transparency and information to factor what determines their pay goes a long way for both employees and employers alike. Some tech leaders experimenting with the practice found the radical transparency into how salaries are calculated helped bolster their retention efforts. Here's a deeper look.

How they're doing it: For some, it starts with the offer letter. More companies are providing a visual breakdown of various equity compensation scenarios to help prospective employees evaluate their offer and decide how they would like their pay to be structured. Next, some companies are developing actual calculators encompassing an employee's total compensation with cash, equity and benefits included. This is something that GitLab has done for both current employees and prospective candidates. This allows candidates to see the best possible offer from the start.

The payoff: GitLab said in a blog post that providing a transparent salary calculator cuts down on unconscious bias and the inequity of negotiation skills. For other companies, it has taken out the surprise factor their workers experience when they encounter a pay change due to relocation or a job change.

By The Numbers

One size does not fit all in DEI

The numbers don't lie, and this month comes with yet another reminder that diversity is not a monolith and neither should be the efforts put in place to reach employees. DEI tech and data company, Kanarys, Inc., partnered with Prospanica this month in its latest report assessing the efforts made by companies for Hispanic and Latinx employees. The report looked at the challenges Hispanic and Latinx workers continue to face and where corporate efforts appear to have failed. The numbers reveal a gap in the amount of support provided to employees. Here's a look into The 2021 Prospanica Workplace Inclusion & Equity 2021 Report.

  • Hispanic/Latinx workers remain underrepresented in the workplace. In the past year, there was a decrease in the number of Hispanics hired at companies. According to the report, the percent of Hispanic people hired decreased from about 18% in 2020 to 13% in 2021, and the number of interns hired decreased as well.
  • Hispanic/Latinx professionals were found to be 35% less likely than non-Hispanic professionals to have a positive experience with their company's DEI efforts. And for Hispanic/Latinx women it's even worse. They are 53% less likely than non-Hispanics to feel good about DEI efforts and experiences in their workplace.
  • 50% of Hispanic/Latinx employees said they "have personally witnessed or experienced discrimination or bias at work."

Around The Internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.


What are the strategies and tools that CEOs need to consider as they plan for what comes next with their workforce? A Forrester report on CEO responsibility and the adaptive workforce. Check out The CEO's Guide to the Future of Work.

Learn more

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