BIPOC Business Women Who Lead

Alexandra Nikolajev is Shining a Spotlight on Pinterest’s Underrepresented Creators

Pinterest is working towards diversifying its platform to provide underrepresented creators the opportunity to be seen, heard, and appreciated—afterall, it’s hard to feel inspired if you aren’t represented.

At the lead of this initiative is Alexandra Nikolajev, Pinterest’s first-ever Creator Inclusion Lead. “In developing a role like this, an inclusion lead role, we could navigate those sensitive conversations externally with our creators in a really strong and positive way,” says Nikolajev. 

Nikolajev has been at the forefront of movements for underrepresented communities throughout her career. Starting at Pinterest Canada in 2019, she worked with content creators in leading and managing the media they were creating. It’s no secret the past two years have seen a climate of unrest. Feeling the impact of the racial and social injustices plaguing the world coupled with a pandemic, Nikolajev was inspired to take her role one step further and go beyond the industry standards. 

“I was pushing myself beyond what was comfortable,” says Nikolajev, “ I think that was the purpose of everything that happened last year for a lot of people, to just recognize that we need to do a little bit more work and it can start as simply as where we work too,” she adds. 

Since the start of her new role, Nikolajev has been part of a team that works to implement a number of tools and products as part of Pinterest’s commitment to be a diverse and inclusive platform. From introducing skin tone ranges, a creator code and pronouns, to hosting events to educate users and audiences during Pride month, Nikolajev and her team were able to make a multitude of positive changes to the Pinterest community in just a couple of months. 

“I think the possibilities are truly endless, but it all comes back to focusing on that everyone piece and ensuring that from our managed creators, the products, and the editorial spaces that we have on the platform, that we’re really amplifying those voices on Pinterest,” says Nikolajev.  

Pinterest’s commitment to having 50 percent of its content come from users who self-identify as part of an underrepresented community is already well established, with that number currently sitting beyond 60 percent.

“My true inspiration comes from these creators who, regardless of their opportunities, or regardless of where they’re coming from, they make this beautiful inspirational or educational content. And they are just churning it out day after day, week after week” says Nikolajev. 

Women Who Lead: Alexandra Nikolajev

For this week’s Women Who Lead, Bay Street Bull talked to Alexandra Nikolajev, Creator Inclusion Lead at Pinterest, about her work at Pinterest to make the platform inclusive and shed the spotlight on creators in underrepresented communities.

Q&A

You carved out your role as Creator Inclusion Lead at Pinterest. What exactly does that entail?

I started working at Pinterest in Canada in September of 2019. I don’t know how many people know this, but if you think about Pinterest, you obviously as a user come to Pinterest to find ideas and get inspiration, anything from a recipe or how to style. One time I was searching how to style vinyl pants or something random, it’s that place that you go to find all of those ideas when you’re stuck yourself, but there are actually creators that are putting those ideas on the platform, just like they would on a different social media platform. Almost two years ago, I joined the team in Canada and my job was to lead and manage these creators that were making amazing content on the platform.

To really understand who those creators were, the big names in Canada, and how can we help to educate and support them? How can we get them monetized opportunities or partner with them for monetized opportunities as a platform? As I started doing that on the Canadian side, I realized that there were amazing creators from varying backgrounds that weren’t necessarily getting the representation and the stories that were being told in the market. I championed to ensure that we had this diverse and inclusive layer to everything that we did, whether it was the creators that I worked with on managed programs for Pinterest, which basically means that they partner with us to share what they’re doing on Pinterest, to everything from ensuring that there was inclusivity in the creators that we invited to lunch and learns and workshops or events. 

Word got around to the rest of Pinterest and the other creator managers internationally. With last year and everything that happened in the world, a lot of people wanted to champion this, a lot of people at Pinterest. We said, “We want to be a thought leader in this space.” The evolution of the role really came from that, it was something that I was personally championing for in the work that I did with creators and the amazing content that they’re putting on this platform in Canada. We took it one step further to say, this can be a full role that somebody owns to be able to build and create programming and campaigns to amplify these underrepresented creators and their amazing content.

So what pushed you to want to start this role?

Going back to last year when everything happened with Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, I really realized that I felt very strongly about the state of the world and where we were and just this lack of education, even for myself and how much farther we had to go. I realized that we, as a platform, had this opportunity to step up and do more than just what the industry standard was. It really just evolved from me starting to have internal conversations at the organization.

I realized that I was somebody internally at the company that was comfortable communicating to the right people or trying to get the right people in the room and being a moderator of sorts in those difficult or uncomfortable conversations. In pushing myself to be at the forefront of those conversations, even internally at Pinterest as we all work to educate ourselves, it led me to realize that in developing a role like this, an inclusion lead role, we could navigate those sensitive conversations externally with our creators in a really strong and positive way. That was the push for me. It was pushing myself to have those conversations that felt uncomfortable, but also recognizing that I could leverage those communication skills to navigate the sensitivity around the subject matter and give our creators a space to have those conversations with the platform too.

I felt that if Pinterest was open to giving us an opportunity and space to have these conversations internally, then we probably could also be having them externally with our creators or identifying where we could do better for underrepresented creators and creating a space to make that happen. 

That’s very true. So what are some products and tools that you’ve introduced to Pinterest with your real new role? 

I’m excited because I feel like one of the most exciting things that we did was we launched the Creator Code earlier this year. We recognized that it’s our top priority to ensure that Pinterest continues to be this inspiring, inclusive space and that these creators feel safe and empowered to make actionable and inspiring content as well. We have these creators, and they want to do incredible things on the platform, so how can we make that platform an ecosystem for this pressure and richer, more engaging content for this generation of creators that are developing on Pinterest?

What the Creator Code is, it’s this mandatory set of content guidelines that creators can opt into. There’s Be Kind: It’s very evident, just ensure that your content doesn’t put other people down. Then Checking Your Facts: We talked about sharing information in the past year and forward, making sure that the information that you’re sharing is accurate and factual. Be Aware of Triggers: That’s one that is super important right now, practicing that discretion when it comes to sensitive content. Practice Inclusion: Make sure that you’re never intentionally excluding somebody in the content that you make or excluding specific communities. Then, Do No Harm: Make sure that any call to action that you are asking your users or your audience to partake in is safe and it’s not harmful to other people.What’s really great about the code, for me personally, is we are building on that community development and we’re saying: hold our hand in this. Let’s do this together and really partner to champion and ensure that this journey is inspirational and safe for all people coming to Pinterest. 

They can opt into that right on the platform, it pops up on their home feed or when they start to create an idea pin. When they tap to create a new piece of content on Pinterest, it will ask them to opt-in. I’m really proud of that for us as a platform, again, that we’re championing for this different space.

We launched skin tone ranges in the U.S. last year. Essentially, when a user is searching on Pinterest, you can filter by a skin tone range category to refine your beauty search results to help you get the best content that you’re looking for. It was launched in the U.S. last year, but then this year we launched it internationally in some of our markets. Now it’s in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia. What I love about that is that first of all, there were over 80 million beauty searches on Pinterest last month. People were so excited when we launched this and we have more products coming to reflect this type of work of the skin tone ranges. I was so proud of it in the sense that the audience and user response was so positive. People, again, felt like this was one more step in being able to personalize their experience on Pinterest and make it more for them. Our mission is to bring everyone the inspiration to create a life they love.

On June 15th, to celebrate Pride and celebrate the community, we launched that you can now add pronouns to your profile as well. This was a huge Pride month initiative for us. You can self-select your pronouns and opt into that identification if you wish. Regardless, if you have the creator account, which is a business account or personal account, that will show up right on your profile. 

Can you tell me a bit more about that event that happened earlier in June, and what you are hoping it will do for the LGBTQ+ community on Pinterest?

It was our global Show Your True Colors event. Stemming from these conversations that we had internally as a company, I recognized that I wanted to have those broader conversations with our creator community as well, but also that I didn’t personally identify as a member of the LGTBQ+ community. So, how could I go about putting together an event to celebrate this community, educate others on allyship, or even the community as they are doing self-exploration within themselves?  I put together this working group of Pinterest employees, people who raised their hands and were willing to participate that either came to the table as allies, or came to the table as members of the LGTBQ+ community to say: What is important to this community? What are the conversations that we should be having right now to speak to our creators and the community?

It involved having conversations around how to use Pinterest as a content creator and a member of the LGTBQ+ community to tell stories as a creator, but also, how can you speak about your lived experience, educate others about your lived experience through your content, and then how can you also recognize the work that you need to do as an ally? We had great sessions around creating, by learning about storytelling through your lived experience with a number of creators and doing a round table type session. We had an amazing session on allyship and understanding how to lead and educate yourself as an ally. We also had these great opening and closing fireside chats. One was with Dominique Jackson, who is on FX Pose, the Ryan Murphy show, and then we had a closing fireside chat with Christian Siriano, the fashion designer, who also creates on Pinterest. For those round tables and creator sessions that were more panel-based, we brought Pinterest creators from all around the world. The biggest piece of feedback we got was that what Pride means in different countries is different. Having that global perspective was super important to us, I feel we really hit the nail in making that speak to our audiences all over the world. 

With that said, did you have any challenges making Pinterest an inclusive platform? And if yes, how did you overcome these?

I feel really lucky in the sense that when we decided that we were going to turn this creator inclusion role into a full role, everybody was on board, which was amazing because then it made the path clearer to come up with a strategy, come up with an idea and let’s get collected buy-in and all move forward.

What’s so challenging about this role for me was that I was so focused on understanding the creator ecosystem, understanding who creators were, what they needed, how we can amplify their content, and make Pinterest a place that they feel inclusive and safe to create on. I think what I did not realize, and what was a challenge for me, was just thinking about the product side of the platform because I don’t come from that space.

What was really cool is realizing that there’s actually work that we could do on the product side. Things like the skin tone ranges or the pronouns to your profile, and things that we have coming up more as well, understanding the challenge of how that product can play a role in this too. Under our whole product scope, they put together an inclusive product team that is specifically focused on making those products like skin tone ranges and pronouns.  I work really closely with that inclusive product team now, we’re kind of linked in arms in the work that we do. I didn’t even realize how much farther we could drive this work by making this 360 full circle. 

You touched on that in so many different ways, but how has Pinterest really evolved since you’ve started in your role?

One of the biggest things that we did in announcing my role, and then also thinking about the work that that role would entail, was we made a public statement where we have committed to a goal of having a minimum of 50 percent of all of the creators that we manage—in fashion, beauty, home, food and fitness, and wellness—50 percent of all of those managed creators have to self-identify as a member of an underrepresented demographic. I’m super proud that we made a public commitment to that, and to say that earlier this year, at the end of the first quarter, we were at 57 percent and I believe that that’s gone up now to over 60 percent. 

For our business profiles which goes across our creators, our merchants, and small businesses, we have a self ID tool that allows creators to opt-in to say: I identify as a member of X, Y, or Z underrepresented community. We can amplify the content that they make on the platform through different initiatives, like our Today tab, which is an editorial space, or through our shopping spotlights on the business side. We also launched our Creator Fund earlier this year. I’m really proud of the work that we’re doing and we keep pushing, I’m exhausted, but I’m thrilled.

What’s your overall mission in this role? When you think ahead in five, 10 years from now, where do you hope to see the platform? 

When I think about my mission in this role in the next five years—Pinterest’s overall mission is for everyone to have the inspiration to create a life they love—so, my mission, when I think about creator inclusion, is really to ensure that we’re hitting the mark on that everyone piece. I really want to make sure that we’re focused on that everyone piece of Pinterest’s overall mission by measuring representation among our managed creators, among our editorial and products, to really amplify the communities on the platform. I think the possibilities are truly endless.

Onto my last question, is there anyone in your life that has inspired you throughout your career and that has made you want to start this role and fight for diversity on platforms such as Pinterest?

When people always ask me this question, I always go back to my grandmother. My grandmother was truly my best friend. From as young as I can remember, she had me volunteering with her. Every Sunday after church we’d go in the basement and we would volunteer at her church, feeding those who are less fortunate, literally every single weekend. I truly, from as young as I can remember, have those memories. Giving back to a community has always been very intrinsic to me. It’s just been a part of who I am, to understand that people come from different walks of life and how we can give back, but also champion for them. I always had that and that was put in me by my grandmother.

Also, I’m thinking back to the last year and beyond, my true inspiration comes from these creators who, regardless of their opportunities, or regardless of where they’re coming from, they make this beautiful inspirational or educational content. When I see the work that these amazing creators can do oftentimes for free, because they just love creating, I’m beyond inspired to work as much as I can to give them a space and give them a voice and give them a place to feel seen and heard. They are spending so much time and effort basically doing what we want to do at Pinterest, which is show people and encourage them to create a life that they truly love. To me, that’s literally everything.

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