Slack正在开发一些工具来判断某人是否有麻烦 Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield is fascinated by “people analytics.”
性别规范今天渗透到数字通信当中，如同他们面对面一样强有力地（并且对女性有害），显示出数十年的语言分析。正如 研究数字通信动态的领先语言学家Susan Herring 所说的，无论是在列表服务，短信，Facebook还是Reddit中，男性都倾向于“数字化传播” 。与此同时，女性在私人空间中自我隔离，像直接消息一样仅限女性空间。
日益流行的工作场所沟通平台Slack不免于这种现象。正如我在“ 你的公司的Slack可能是性别歧视 ” 一文中所写的那样，各行各业的女性都表示，他们的男性同事用他们在会议中部署的同样权威的沟通风格来主导公共频道的对话。与此同时，女性更倾向于使用支持性的友好标点符号，并用对冲方式修改他们的观点，如“我可能是错的，但是......”
当然，性别或其他等级的传播规范并不普遍; 有些女人很自然地说话，特别是其他女人也一样。有些男人自我质疑，以至于瘫痪。Slack（作为一个公司或产品）也不应该归咎于性别规范的流行，我们在我们打字之前就开始内化 - 甚至可以用完整的句子说话。但是，尽管Slack认为其产品的任何部分都不利于偏见，但公司现在似乎承认，女性和代表性不足的少数群体的人 可能会在Slack上保持沉默 - 并且正在研究解决这些趋势的产品开发。
短短几个月后，CEO巴特菲尔德管家指出，斯莱克是 着手解决的担忧，通过开发工具来分析其平台上通信的发展趋势，在沃顿人们分析会议 3月23日在费城响应来自沃顿商学院管理学教授一个问题Mae McDonnell谈到Butterfield是否担心私人Slack聊天“渠道”会加剧排斥，CEO也开玩笑说，“我担心所有事情。我有一个犹太人的祖母。“
巴特菲尔德的纽约员工正在创建这些分析工具来识别这些个人通信风格，他说。“Slack员工使用一些API来完成自己的查询，”他说。“ 我们未来几年的计划是尽可能地扩大这一计划 - 以便为客户提供有关其组织和个人的见解。”
作为首席执行官，Butterfield表示他有兴趣在更宏观的层面上使用Slack通信分析来识别功能失常的团队或其组织内不匹配的合作关系。Slack已经公开承诺在自己的职位中实现多元化，2016年已经将女性管理人员的比例从43％提高到48％。尽管如此，有色人种 仍然缺乏代表性， 只有5％的Slack科技职位的雇员是黑人，这在科技公司中普遍存在。
自动分析用户如何沟通将是更进一步的一步。 巴特菲尔德后来说：“这是一个 充满挑战的领域，因为你希望通过他们得到的反馈和他们使用的工具来赋予人们权力，而没有他们感觉他们正在被监督。
然而，即使不公平的数据要暴露个人，它也可以 - 并且在巴特菲尔德的书中 应该激发积极的变化。“因此，如果[数据]的结果不是'嗨，结果你是个混蛋，我们正在解雇你'，但'嘿，事实证明我们已经确定了一些围绕沟通的问题，或者管理结构或组织设计，这阻碍了我们想要取得的进展，因此我们要纠正它们，“这是件好事，”他说。
In the early 1990s, newly minted Internet evangelists promised a gender-free utopia. Hierarchical identifiers like race and class would be obscured online, they argued, and biased judgements would therefore become obsolete. That didn’t quite work out.
Gender norms infiltrate digital communication today as powerfully (and as detrimentally to women) as they do in-person, show decades of linguistic analysis. Whether on listservs, text messages, Facebook, or Reddit, men tend to “digitally manspread,” as Susan Herring, a leading linguist studying digital communication dynamics, calls it. Meanwhile, women self-segregate in private, women’s-only spaces, like direct messages.
Slack, the increasingly popular workplace communication platform, is not exempt from this phenomenon. As I wrote in “Your company’s Slack is probably sexist,” women across industries say that their male colleagues dominate public-channel conversations with the same authoritative communication styles they deploy in meetings. Meanwhile, women are more likely to use supportive, friendly punctuation, and to modify their opinions with hedges like “I could be wrong, but…”
Now, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield says Slack is pioneering products that will provide individual Slack users with data on whether their digital communication changes when they speak with people of different demographics. He says this data will help promote more equal, inclusive workplace cultures, and make employees more efficient and effective.
Bias on Slack
As Slack continues to replace email, becoming the primary means of internal communication at over 50,000 companies worldwide, women’s inhibitions on the platform pose a formidable threat to organizational culture, innovation, and business success.
Of course, gendered or otherwise hierarchical communication norms aren’t universal; some women are comfortable speaking bluntly, especially when other women do the same. And some men self-question to the point of Slack paralysis. Nor is Slack (as a company or product) to blame for the prevalence of gender norms that we start internalizing before we can type—or even speak in full sentences. But while Slack holds that no part of its product facilitates bias, the company now appears to acknowledging that women and people of underrepresented minorities could be silenced on Slack—and looking into product development that addresses these trends.
In November 2017, Slack told Quartz that complaints about the platform’s facilitation of gender bias hadn’t come up. “If we had seen a trend where women said they didn’t have a voice on Slack, we would work on how we might address it,” said Julia Blystone, head of communications at Slack. “But we haven’t heard that in our research.”
Just a few months later, CEO Steward Butterfield indicated that Slack was beginning to address concerns, by developing tools to analyze communication trends on its platform, at the Wharton People Analytics Conference in Philadelphia on March 23. In response to a question from Wharton management professor Mae McDonnell on whether Butterfield ever worries that private Slack chat “channels” can reinforce exclusion, CEO also joked, “I worry about everything. I have a Jewish grandmother.”
“If there are deep and systemic problems at an organization Slack can exaggerate them,” he said.
Butterfield added that the platform can also enhance an organization’s positive characteristics. “If there are real positive attributes and successful [negotiating and conversational] skills within an organization, those can be supercharged,” he said. “So I don’t think there’s anything inherent to [Slack’s] structure… or any inherent visible characteristics that would inhibit diversity.”
Butterfield emphasized that for less loquacious employees of all identities, Slack can be a godsend. Nearly every week, Slack hears from customers who identify as introverted, or previously struggled to participate in meetings “where some of the participants are louder, or more aggressive,” or just prefer to think more slowly, says Butterfield. “They reach out to say thank you, because now with Slack, they can participate asynchronously, and they feel like they have much more input, and are much more active participants in their company’s conversations.”
“Personal analytics” could expose communication bias
While apparently gendered or racial slights in face-to-face communication can be distorted by perception and memory, Slack’s digital archives provide invaluable opportunity for linguistic analyses.
Butterfield says he’s “really interested in the idea of personal analytics.”
“These are analytics that no one else has access to you except for you,” he said. “And they don’t present you with any real moral value either way, but [they answer questions like], do you talk to men differently than you talk to women? Do you speak to support groups differently than you speak to superiors? Do you speak in public differently than you speak in private?
Butterfield’s New York staff are creating those analytics tools to identify those personal communication styles, he says. “There’s a handful of APIs Slack employees use to do their own queries,” he said. “Our plan for the next couple of years is to expand that as much as possible—so to provide customers with insights about their organizations and individuals.”
Blystone says the personal analytics initiatives are “in the early stages and will continue to develop over the next couple of years.”
As CEO, Butterfield says he’s interested in using Slack communication analytics at a more macro-level to identify dysfunctional teams or mismatched partnerships within his organization. Slack has publicly committed to diversity within its own ranks, and 2016, has raised representation of women in management from 43% to 48%. Nevertheless, people of color remain vastly under-represented, only 5% of employees in tech roles at Slack are black, a disproportion common in tech companies.
The fine line between analysis and surveillance
Early as these products may be, their potential to put data behind damaging (and positive) communication dynamics on a person-by-person basis is unprecedented.
Women and people of underrepresented minorities sometimes don’t speak up about coworkers whose Slack habits make them uncomfortable due to fear that they wouldn’t be believed, or wouldn’t have data to back up their accusations. Convincing as linguistic studies on gendered communication patterns may be, nationally representative samples pale in comparison to easily accessible, real-time data about the people literally sitting (or Slacking) alongside you.
Of course, privacy as it relates to people analytics remains pressing. It’s an issue Slack has yet to resolve.
“We’re a bit stuck in the middle on these conversations about access to information, because most of our large corporate customers have employee provisions which already grant them the right to access all employee communications,” said Butterfield.
Automatic analysis of how users communicate would be a further step. “It’s a fraught area, because you want people to be empowered by the feedback they’re getting and the tools they’re using, without them feeling like they’re being surveilled,” said Butterfield later.
“That would be useful feedback for any employee, but it’s probably something that people don’t feel very comfortable sharing with their managers or with their peers, so the consent question is really interesting.”
However, even if unfavorable data were to to be exposed about an individual, it can—and, in Butterfield’s books, should—inspire positive change. “So if the result of that [data] is not ‘Hey, it turns out you’re a jerk and we’re firing you,’ but ‘Hey, it turns out we’ve identified some set of problems around communication, or management structure or organizational design, which inhibits the kind of progress we want to make, and therefore we’re going to rectify them,’ that’s a good thing,” he said.
This story is part of How We’ll Win, a project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. Read more stories here.