(Bloomberg) -- Snowflake Inc. Chief Executive Officer Frank Slootman apologized to those he said he may have hurt when he suggested during a Bloomberg Television interview that diversity should be secondary to merit in hiring, and acknowledged that people aren’t treated equally in the workplace.
“Comments I made during a media interview last week may have led some to infer that I believe that diversity and merit are mutually exclusive when it comes to recruitment, hiring and promotion. I do not believe this, and I want to personally apologize to anyone who may have been hurt or offended by my comments,” Slootman said in a statement posted Monday on the company’s blog. “I accept full and personal responsibility for the lack of clarity in my comments.”
Slootman said Thursday on Bloomberg Television that a more “moderated” approach was needed to ensure diversity, which shouldn’t override merit in hiring and promoting employees. The CEO of the cloud software maker said other chief executive officers felt the same way, but were reluctant to speak publicly.
The remarks put Slootman in conflict with the positions staked out by much of corporate America, where many leaders have pledged to make their companies mirror the nation’s demographics. Advocates for diversity point to research from consultant McKinsey & Co. that has found that companies with more diverse leadership are more likely to outperform the profitability of those that are the least diverse. And this year has seen a record for diversity-related proposals offered by shareholders at annual meetings.
A number of Silicon Valley executives rejected Slootman’s remarks. “Building a diverse company, where every talented person, regardless of background, can contribute and be successful is not a “distraction”... it’s a key job of a CEO,” Twilio Inc. co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson said in one of a series of tweets.
“Good luck hiring with your bias against change,” Ellen Pao, founder of Project Include, a nonprofit working for greater diversity in the tech industry, said in a tweet. “It’s not just the ‘liberals of Silicon Valley’ who care about a diverse workforce. 76% of employees and job seekers called it important and 79% of new graduates called it ‘very important.’”
Slootman, in his statement Monday, said corporate leaders “must fight daily” on behalf of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“All individuals don’t have the same opportunities, be it in the workplace or in society as a whole. This has long been the case, and it remains the case today,” he said. “Sadly, racism, discrimination and prejudice are still common in our society.”
Last year, after the death of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests, Snowflake announced a council to examine the company’s “diversity, equity, and inclusion practices” and make progress “through innovative new ideas from across the entire organization.” The San Mateo, California-based company, which went public in September in the largest U.S. initial public offering in 2020, didn’t release any workforce demographic data in its first annual report as a public company nor is that information listed on its website.
“While diversity, equity and inclusion has long been a focus for Snowflake, we are committed to doing more. We have the responsibility to lead, and we will do so,” Slootman said. “Snowflake, under my personal leadership, will undertake a comprehensive review across our company of all of our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to help ensure that we are taking appropriate steps. We have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council at Snowflake, and I am proud of the work they have done.”
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