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High-flying startup Slack says women make up nearly half its management team

The productivity software company says tracking diversity issues while the startup is small means being able to prevent bigger problems later, and has helped it to beat back diversity problems that pervade the rest of Silicon Valley.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said the company should address diversity issues "sooner rather than later." Tobias Hase/dpa/Corbis

In many ways, Slack, the productivity software company, is a model Silicon Valley startup. It's as buzzy among the technorati as a workplace software company can be, it's valued at almost $3 billion, and now it's one of the most diverse places to work.

The company on Wednesday released figures about its workplace demographics. Thirty-nine percent of the company is women, and 41 percent of Slack employees report to a woman. That's great, but there's a caveat: The company only has 250 employees worldwide.

And that's the point. Slack says it wants to be aggressive about how it's monitoring diversity issues so they it correct the course as it goes.

"It has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," CEO Stewart Butterfield and VP of People & Policy Anne Toth wrote in a blog post. "If us doing this sooner rather than later yields a better result, that alone will be a good thing for us."

Slack is a messaging tool that companies use to communicate and collaborate with each other. The company says more than 1 million people use it each day.

Silicon Valley has faced tough questions as the treatment of women and minorities in tech has become top of mind for the past several months. High-profile lawsuits and sexual-discrimination complaints have attracted additional scrutiny. But all this also speaks to how influential the sector has become, especially as it becomes a driving factor of the global economy and a model for employee benefits and health programs.

Tech companies have recently been more forthcoming about their workplace demographics, but Slack is still an exception. In May 2014, Google released its first detailed diversity report. Other tech giants like Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn followed suit. Currently, Google's workforce is only 30 percent female. Facebook's is slightly better at 32 percent.

The difference between those companies and Slack is sheer scale. When Google released its report, the company was 16 years old and had around 50,000 employees. Butterfield founded Slack in 2009 and launched the company's app in 2014. Slack said it began reviewing its diversity statistics with an outside firm when it only had 75 employees.

Still, Slack said it doesn't want a pat on the back, in part because it still has work to do. For example, with 70 percent of employees identifying as white, it's not nearly as racially diverse.

"Perhaps the single most important thing we are doing right now is addressing this issue in the infancy of our organizational history," Butterfield and Toth wrote.