Designing for Diversity: The Power of Space to Foster an Inclusive Culture

By Jen Nguyen, Head of Real Estate, Pinterest

Jen Nguyen, Head of Real Estate, Pinterest
Photographed by Kevin Scott (c)

A workplace, in my mind, is an extension of a company’s culture and values.

The spaces we design, build, and operate are where our employees find meaning and purpose. The environment we create allows people to flourish and thrive, so our businesses, too, can grow. Your physical space conveys who your company is and what you value.

At Pinterest, community is at the heart of our company. Our visual discovery engine is where you come to discover and do what you love, explore, and find new ideas for your life. Our members are driven by creativity, curiosity, and self-expression. We’ve made Pinterest a safe space where people can be their true selves without fear of judgement or social pressure.

Because Pinterest is a community-driven platform, Pinterest, as a company, must be too. After all, how can we serve a diverse audience of people from all around the world if we are not equally diverse? That’s why we’ve long been committed to fostering an inclusive culture for our 1,800 employees in 20 locations across the world.

The Pinterest aesthetic is inviting and inspiring, warm and welcoming. We’ve designed each of our offices to convey those feelings. When you step into any of our locations, you’re energised.

Jen Nguyen, Head of Read Estate at Pinterest

You may be wondering what that means. It seems like every business leader is talking about diversity. But there’s more to the story than meeting hiring targets. Committing to diversity means creating a workplace where everyone feels comfortable, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity. And for those of us in the property industry, that means designing your workspace with compassion for your employees.

The Pinterest aesthetic is inviting and inspiring, warm and welcoming. We’ve designed each of our offices to convey those feelings. When you step into any of our locations, you’re energized.

Beyond that, we’ve created spaces for people from all backgrounds and working styles. Many offices have gender-neutral toilet facilities, with showers. We consider what our employees need throughout the day, whether it’s quiet areas for recharging, lounge areas for meetings, or phone booths for making private calls.

We’ve had to learn as we grew. When we recruited an employee who used a wheelchair, we had to rethink our space. We saw it as an opportunity—despite having to make a case for additional budget to retrofit a space we’d already built. Pinterest’s San Francisco headquarters is an urban campus spread out across six buildings. We took a wheelchair around to see if we could easily navigate it. We couldn’t. That experience helped inform how we adapted that location, not just for that candidate, but for future ones.

We also found that it’s necessary to educate employees. Even though we offered gender-neutral toilet facilities, we still had employees who felt they made their peers uncomfortable by using them. In making our lifts wheelchair accessible, we had to allow more time for the doors to stay open—which led to employee complaints about slow lifts. Education was key.

These kinds of actions, plus an open dialogue about diversity and inclusion, can make the world of difference for employees’ well-being, health, happiness, and productivity. This can go a long way in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.

As leaders in the property industry, we have a direct impact on the diversity of our businesses. Ask yourself: do you have a range of workspaces that meet the human needs and working styles of all employees? Are there breakout areas for employees to connect and eat meals? Does everyone have a bathroom where they feel comfortable? Do they have adequate access to mothers' rooms? Are all employees able to move around your workspace with ease?

By designing for diversity with compassion, you have the opportunity to meaningfully improve your business results and the lives of your employees.

See how Pinterest partnered with WeWork to open its Seattle office.