At Patreon, we strive to create an equitable workplace for people of all backgrounds. This forces us to challenge the norms and systems that have governed our society and industry for a long time. We have set forth the following policies and practices that help us work toward this goal in a meaningful way.
I’m listing compensation first, because money and power are inextricably linked in our country. We know that there’s a pay gap that negatively affects people from underrepresented groups. Our compensation policy strives for fairness both internally and externally.
Our job levels serve as the foundation of our compensation policy. There are six levels in engineering, with one being the lowest and six being the highest. We have a document which describes the expectations and responsibilities of an engineer at each level, and we regularly reference and refine this document because of how much we depend on it. Accurately placing folks at the levels that are commensurate with their skill level is one of our biggest challenges. I touch upon how we calibrate folks across levels in the third point of this post.
The compensation we offer all our teammates is determined by their job level within our organization. We leverage a person’s job level and job type (Engineering, HR, Data Science etc.) to gather their compensation target from a survey-based compensation tool called Option Impact, which aggregates the compensation and equity offerings of other startups in our industry and location.¹
Teammates of the same level receive approximately the same compensation, with only minor variations due to performance and proximity to reaching the next level. Our engineering leveling is consistent across functions, such as Infrastructure, Backend, Web, and Mobile. We review both cash and equity annually to ensure that folks are being compensated in accordance with their level and to safeguard against bias.
We hope that in doing this work, no two people get paid differently for doing the same work.
Looking around at many tech companies, it’s clear that leadership roles aren’t proportionately distributed across people from a diverse set of backgrounds. We are careful to scrutinize our own decisions about who gets placed into which leadership roles. In engineering, formal leadership is generally available in two forms: management and product engineering lead positions (called PEL for shorthand).
Our engineering manager role is exactly what you would expect at any startup. It’s a permanent role that we hire directly into, and folks regard changing into this role as a significant career transition. We’ve made an effort to source a diverse candidate pool to ensure that we give a fair shot to individuals that aren’t commonly represented in engineering management.
The PEL role is similar to a technical product manager role at other startups. They change on a per-project or per-several-project basis. It isn’t an official title change; instead, the role is rotational and it’s a way of growing engineers as leaders at a faster rate than we open jobs. By making it rotational, it gives us the ability to consider a wide range of engineers for the role on an continual basis.
Leadership can also be demonstrated informally, by engineers that don’t possess a manager or PEL title. These opportunities — such as giving a presentation, providing technical leadership on a new architecture or tooling — arise often, and we are diligent in advocating for and supporting folks of all backgrounds that might benefit from these opportunities. We’re able to do this with the process I discuss in the next point.
3. We carefully calibrate our promotion criteria across the engineering org to achieve fairness and clarity of expectations about how to grow and advance.
For the past few quarters, engineering management has done a full review of each individual in our organization. We effectively answer these few questions:
- What is this person passionate about?
- How do they want to grow?
- What challenges should we be looking for for them?
- How close are they to being promoted?
This review has a bunch of benefits for everybody in engineering. It helps us:
- Find the right growth opportunities for the individuals in our organization
- Set very clear expectations about what engineers should be doing to improve
- Calibrate our promotion criteria across managers
- Deeply incorporate our engineering levels guide into our conversation
- Understand our levels guide’s strengths and weaknesses better, allowing us to iterate on it and make it better
In many organizations, management only talks about the people being put up for promotion. Patreon’s process of talking regularly about everyone allows us to challenge each other not just on who is getting promoted but who is not and why.
It’s common knowledge that women are often interrupted by men in the workplace. A vast majority of our employees are excellent listeners and wait to take turns to speak. Additionally, it’s important to encourage participation in the first place. Meeting facilitators at Patreon regularly employ techniques to encourage participation from folks that might not get the chance to speak up. For instance, one engineering manager conducts group discussion by having everybody raise their hands to speak, and he explicitly invites others who haven’t spoken yet to speak up. One engineer conducts meeting by soliciting everybody’s input one person at a time, and allowing for discussion after each comment.
Engineering leadership at Patreon frequently devises new ways in which we can help everybody’s voice be heard. This means questioning and re-evaluating how we conduct important meetings, like brainstorms or retrospectives. We strongly believe that the collective wisdom of every team outweighs the knowledge of any single individual, and we’ve seen time and time again that the time we take to listen to folks has a clear payoff.
Last, we actively question whether meetings include all the relevant stakeholders. We want to ensure everybody has a seat at the table but also that we don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen for any decision. It’s a difficult balance to strike!
Until this point, I’ve only discussed ways in which we promote equity for employees already working at Patreon. However, we need to hire women and other folks from underrepresented groups for any of this to really matter, and that means having a fair hiring pipeline that mitigates bias at each step.
Exhaustively detailing what we do to ensure fairness in our hiring process is beyond the scope of this point, but it would include things that are considered industry best practices today, like asking technical interview questions that reflect real work, ensuring our interview panels are diverse (despite the cost to the Second Shift, to which we are sensitive, and it’s important to check in with interviewers to rebalance their interview load, if necessary), and sourcing to increase diversity at the top of the funnel. It’s important to put a process in place which allows us to fairly analyze a candidate’s skill, regardless of background, and to have enough diversity in our hiring funnel that representation of marginalized groups improves over time.
If this sounds like the type of environment in which you’d like to work, please check out our open positions!
¹ We acknowledge that the integrity of our compensation data depends on this tool, and we’ll continually look for the highest quality we can get.