Overview

Wattpad is an online storytelling community that combines entertainment with technology. This case study focuses on how Wattpad used intersectional data collection to improve employee well-being, to support its diversity-driven business model, and to grow the business.

Course Topics:
  • Diversity and inclusion in business
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Leadership
  • Human resources and organizational theory
  • Business design

Introduction:

Wattpad is in the business of storytelling, but it is the Toronto-based scale-up’s own story that is causing the tech industry to sit up and take notice. Founded in 2007, Wattpad’s “social storytelling” platform connects readers and writers with original, user-generated stories. Once a scrappy Canadian start-up earning just CA$2 a year in advertising revenue, Wattpad has since solidified its title as a global entertainment player with over 80 million monthly users worldwide, an estimated US$25 million in annual revenues, and ties to Netflix, Sony Pictures, and Penguin Books. Furthermore, the company is distinct from industry peers in that it is a majority-female technology company and employs well over the industry average of people of colour, multilingual persons, and other diverse groups. Notably, Wattpad attributes its success to its culture of inclusivity and community among both users and employees.

A diverse team has proven essential to Wattpad’s ability to satisfy its diverse user base with unconventional stories. The company’s business model is premised on having the cultural competencies to uncover users’ needs and respond to them authentically. Developing a multilingual, multi-disciplinary team early on thus provided Wattpad with the requisite skills to compete globally. However, this eclectic team meant that Wattpad also faced the unique challenge of creating unity while maintaining enough dissimilarity to thrive. In an effort to address this issue, the company began collecting intersectional data to track employee well-being. By uncovering gaps in employee satisfaction and inclusion, Wattpad has been able to generate impactful, data-driven solutions that are sensitive to employees’ differing experiences within the organization. For example, after finding that women of colour at Wattpad were 13% less likely than white men to agree that they could be their authentic selves at work, Wattpad introduced a series of initiatives to address this concern and now reports that 97% of women of colour agree that Wattpad’s inclusivity efforts have positively impacted their workplace experiences. Since implementing intersectional data collection, Wattpad has seen meaningful increases in employee engagement and satisfaction across all groups, thus managing to improve team cohesion despite undergoing rapid organizational change. Today, Wattpad serves as a model for how a people-focused approach that prioritizes diversity and inclusion can accelerate a firm’s growth.

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This case was written by:

This case was written by Stephanie Taylor, Sonal Gupta and Bashir Chalabi. The authors prepared this case under the supervision of Professor Sarah Kaplan, with guidance from Bonnie Lam and Vanessa Serra Iarocci and research assistance from Carmina Ravanera. The authors are grateful for the participation of Seema Lakhani in this project.

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