The Simple Way Pinterest is Becoming More Diverse: They Challenged Their Employees

February 22, 2016

Pinterest wants to hire more women and minority engineers. Pinterest also wants to get a lot of employee referrals.

And therein lies a potential paradox.

Pinterest, like many companies, has a tech workforce that’s predominately male and predominantly white or Asian. As of July of 2015, 79% of their tech workers were male and the majority were either white or Asian.

The company is looking to change that by teaming with Paradigm and setting some big goals for 2016, namely upping the hiring rate for full-time engineering roles to 30% female and to 8% male for people who are from “underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.” But they also want to keep encouraging employees to refer great talent, as research shows referrals are one of the best ways to hire.

The one potential pitfall with employee referrals though is that people tend to refer people who are similar to them. Hence, if you have many white and Asian men referring candidates, chances are you’ll get many white and Asian male candidates referred, and that won’t help efforts to become more diverse.

So, what’s the solution? Well, Pinterest analyzed a slate of options, and came up with a way to still emphasize employee referrals while also improving their diversity statistics.

Pinterest’s solution: simply challenge their employees to refer more candidates from underrepresented backgrounds

To ensure more diversity from their employee referral program, Pinterest was direct with their employees and challenged them to refer candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. They started with their engineering team, and over a six-week period they saw a 24% increase in female referrals and a 55-time increase in the percentage of referred candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.

Encouraged by the success, Pinterest is now working with their senior engineering leaders to try to get two referrals from underrepresented backgrounds from each of them over the next quarter. Senior engineering leaders will also be encouraged to attend demographically diverse industry events and meet one-on-one with recruiters to dig deeper into their professional networks.

It’s a simple solution, frankly, as Pinterest is just asking their employees to be consciously more diverse with whom they refer. But, it is working very well.

It’s worth noting that this is not the only way the company is building up a diverse workforce – they are also planning to recruit from a broader set of colleges and recently launched an apprenticeship program and an early identification program, among other efforts of their diversity strategy such as hiring a Head of Diversity in January.

What this means for recruiters everywhere

Giving up on your referral program because it hampers finding a diverse set of candidates may be a bit premature.

Instead, a better solution is to use your employee referral program to actually fuel your diversity efforts. And, as Pinterest found, it really isn’t that hard.

Just ask.

* Image from Pinterest

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