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Snap scraps racist coding terms in diversity and inclusion push

Snap's latest diversity report details the demographic makeup of the company and outlines how it's working to create a more inclusive culture.

Snap scraps racist coding terms in diversity and inclusion push

Snap releases its latest diversity report.

Photo: Thought Catalog/Unsplash

Snap, like many other tech companies, has a less-than-stellar diversity track record.

In 2016, Snap faced backlash over a Bob Marley filter that resulted in blackface. About a year ago, Snap apologized for a special Juneteenth filter that asked users to smile in order to break the chains. Then, in November 2020, Snap concluded an investigation into allegations of racial bias inside the company, saying it didn't find "a widespread pattern" of that type of behavior on the team in question, but it did identify ways to foster a more inclusive environment.

Snap did not explicitly call out those incidents in its 50-page diversity report, released today, but the company did say it's working to eradicate bias from its product as well as inspire empathy in conversations about diversity and inclusion. The company also detailed its plans to remove outdated language from its code base.

Last summer's racial injustice awakening prompted renewed conversations in the tech industry around the use of terminology that is rooted in racism. Twitter, for example, said last year it would begin removing terms like "master" and "slave" from its database.

Snap is now in the process of replacing similarly outdated language in its coding base. For example, Snap has already renamed "Master" to "Gold" in its internal beta version of the Snapchat app.

Snap also plans to change "slave" to "secondary," "whitelist" to "allowlist" and "blacklist" to "blocklist." Snap says the engineering team is in a year-long project to fully remove those terms from the company's code base.

Snap began making these changes back in July, shortly after many tech companies began thinking of ways to further racial justice and equity within their own companies, Snap VP of diversity, equity and inclusion Oona King told Protocol.

"We felt it was important to get away from that legacy [of] truly non-inclusive language," King said.

Snap is also actively working with "a diverse group of experts" around its camera technology to reduce bias and wants to better understand potential "failure scenarios" where its machine learning models adopt biases, the company said.

"Cameras still haven't widened their aperture to encompass all communities and skin tones," the report states. "We want to change that. Our Snapchat Camera is playing an increasingly important role in the lives of our community, and we are building a more inclusive camera that works for each Snapchatter regardless of who they are and what they look like, and is flexible enough to support their creativity and self-expression."

The numbers

Snap's diversity numbers paint a picture that is exactly what the masses have come to expect of tech companies: a workforce that is predominantly white and male.

Globally, Snap employees are just 33% female and 65.7% male. In the U.S., Snap's workforce is 47% white, 34.3% Asian, 6.3% Hispanic/Latinx, 4.9% Black, 0.2% Indigenous, 2.1% Middle Eastern/North African/Arab and 5.2% multiple races.


Snap's 2020 workforce data breakdown.Image: Snap

The company's leadership level is similarly predominantly white and male. Snap did, however, make some slight progress in this area compared to last year. The company nearly doubled the percentage of women in tech leadership roles, and increased the representation of women on Snap's board of directors from 37.5% to 50%. Snap also increased the percentage of underrepresented racial minorities in leadership roles from 13.1% to 13.6%.

By the end of 2025, Snap aims to have underrepresented racial minorities make up 20% of its staff, increase representation of women in tech roles to 25% and increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in leadership positions by 30%.

Retention is an important indicator of how people of color are faring at a company. Despite seeing reduced overall attrition in 2020, Snap saw women as well as Black, Hispanic/Latinx and Indigenous employees leave at above-average rates.


Snap


"These figures are more or less standard across the tech industry," King said. "That doesn't mean it's good, obviously."

Snap highlighted its attrition rates because it wants to hold itself accountable, King said.

"Too often, people are just focused on hiring" when it comes to diversity efforts, she said.

King pointed to Snap's employee resource groups as an example of how the company is further addressing issues of inclusion. Snap recently began evaluating team members on DEI impact in their performance reviews. That means employees involved in ERGs will be rewarded for their work, King said.

"They carry a lot of the burden of this work," she said. "If DEI is everyone's job, then you can't keep relying on women to solve sexism, on the Black and brown people to solve racism, on the LGBTQ people to solve homophobia. The same with disability and solving accessibility."

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