3 Difficult Diversity Lessons From Yelp, Airbnb, and Deloitte

October 23, 2017

Over 80% talent acquisition leaders and hiring managers say that diversity will be the most important trend shaping the future of recruiting, according to LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018 (coming out in January).

This is no surprise, as studies show that diversity of thought and background improve team’s performance. And in recent years, countless companies have implemented diversity initiatives, including Yelp, Deloitte and AirBnb. However, this isn’t an easy issue to solve and each company has had hiccups along the way.

The good news is, they are sharing the lessons they’ve learned so that other companies can avoid making the same mistakes. Here are their biggest learning that can help you increase diversity and make the hiring process fairer for everyone.

Yelp found that blind hiring tactics didn't help increase diversity, but targeted campus recruiting did

It’s no secret that, for years, there wasn’t much diversity in tech. When Yelp ran its numbers in 2014, it discovered that only 10% of its engineers were women, only 7% were Hispanic, and just 4% were black.

They tried to address the issue head-on. After looking at industry reports and academic research, Yelp piloted a number of initiatives that seemed ironclad—including removing names from resumes and disguising voices during phone screenings. But they discovered that, while these strategies work for some companies, they simply didn’t work for Yelp.

“We are still analyzing why it didn’t work,” a Yelp employee explained in an article for the Harvard Business Review. “One potential factor is that women might use different words in interviews (for example, they may be more likely to say ‘we’ than ‘I,’ diluting credit for their accomplishments). In this situation, blinding the process could even exacerbate bias.”

It was a setback, but it didn’t stop them. Another initiative proved much more effective—expanding the company’s on-campus recruitment efforts.

By focusing on women’s colleges and schools with a high concentration of black and Hispanic students, Yelp boosted their diversity figures across the board. Positions held by black employees increased by 50%, and those held by Hispanic employees increased by almost 43%.

The biggest change has been in female engineers, with an 80% increase in the number of these roles held by women. And Yelp is still pushing.

Targeted college recruitment programs can be hugely successful. Five years after starting one, research shows that, on average, companies experience about a 10% increase in female management and an 8% rise in black management, with black female management rising by 9%.

Plus, your recruiters get to hang out on campus again and relive their youth. Everyone wins!

Airbnb realized that focusing on making personal connections with candidates increased bias, so they overhauled their interview process

When Airbnb realized it had a diversity problem, it set to work. By 2016, 43% of Airbnb’s workforce were non-white, up from 37% in 2015. While the number of women at the company experienced a slight dip in that year, dropping from 46% to 43%, female representation in leadership, technical, and engineering roles increased.

But while things were improving, the company realized that something was still holding it back. In particular, interviewers were encouraged to look for commonalities with candidates (like the fact that they went to the same college) to help build personal connections.

It’s a common tactic, and one that seems to make sense: you want the candidate to feel comfortable and connected to the company. Unfortunately, this actually encouraged more bias to enter the process.

“We thought that was a really strong way to start an interview,” Jill Macri, Airbnb’s Director of Global Recruiting, told LinkedIn’s Brendan Browne in an episode of Talent on Tap. “But it turns out that actually the best way to bias yourself in an interview is to find the commonality and start there.”

When you start looking for commonalities, you ultimately end up looking for people who are a lot like yourself. You’re also more likely to warm to candidates who share your background, experiences, or hobbies, which often have no bearing on their ability to do the job.

Based on what they learned, Airbnb recently overhauled its recruiting process to make things fairer for everyone. Today, recruiters explicitly avoid looking for commonalities, and use objective scorecards to make sure all candidates are evaluated equally. In 2016, the company also hired its first Director of Diversity, and began partnering with women’s nonprofit groups to support female mentorship and activism.

Deloitte learned that pushing diversity training doesn't always work, but an effective diversity task force can

In 1992, Deloitte realized it had a problem: The ratio of male to female partners was grim, and something needed to change.

Other companies were rolling out compulsory diversity training in a panic to avoid lawsuits. But research showed that this approach isn’t always effective. People don’t like to feel like they’re being blamed for something—and not everyone at Deloitte even recognized the problem.

“Most senior partners firmly believed we were doing everything possible to retain women,” admits Douglas M. McCracken, then Deloitte’s CEO. “We prided ourselves on our open, collegial, performance-based work environment.”

Seeing how other companies were still struggling, Deloitte took a different approach. They created a task force to monitor the careers of women at the company and find areas where they could improve. After gathering data, the team was able to present a business case to get everyone on board—instead of pointing any fingers.

The task force was highly visible about its efforts, and this spurred employees across the entire company to look at the problem in a new light and start making positive changes. With everyone buying in, the number of female global partners jumped from 5% to 21% by 2015. Turnover plummeted and the company hired its first female CEO.

In 2000, Deloitte estimated that it saved $250 million in hiring and training costs by reducing the rate women were leaving at. During that time, the company became the fastest growing firm in its field.

This approach had worked for other companies, too. On average, diversity task forces spur as much as a 30% increase in female and racial diversity representation across five years.

Final thought

Increasing diversity takes time, effort, and more than a little trial and error. While it’s useful to see what others are doing, not every strategy will work for every company.

Yelp, Deloitte, and Airbnb all have one other thing in common. They’ve all been transparent about their efforts, including publicizing the embarrassing “before” statistics.

Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes and successes. This tells the story of how your company is constantly striving for improvement, and helps other companies avoid making the same errors.

*Image from Yelp

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