Facebook’s Hiring Process Hinders Its Effort to Create a Diverse Workforce

Ellen Huet, Bloomberg, January 9, 2017

Facebook has put itself at the forefront of efforts to recruit a more diverse workforce, including a targeted internal recruiting strategy in 2015 designed to bring in female, black and Latino software engineers.

Yet within Facebook’s engineering department, the push has been hampered by a multi-layered hiring process that gives a small committee of high-ranking engineers veto power over promising candidates, frustrating recruiters and hindering progress on diversity goals.

Facebook started incentivizing recruiters in 2015 to find engineering candidates who weren’t already well represented at the company – women, black and Latino workers. But during the final stage for engineering hires, the decision-makers were risk-averse, often declining the minority candidates.

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From 2015 to 2016, Facebook’s proportion of women in tech grew from 16 percent to 17 percent, and its proportion of black and Latino U.S. tech workers stayed flat at 1 and 3 percent, respectively.

At most Silicon Valley companies, women, Latino and black employees are a small percentage of the workforce. Many businesses have pledged to work harder to change that. Facebook has portrayed itself as a leader in the effort, with executives giving public speeches on benefits and best practices. In 2015, Facebook published videos of its internal diversity training and said it hoped other companies would use it as an example.

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In 2014, Facebook for the first time released its demographic data, and by the following year, it hadn’t shown much progress in increasing the number of women, black or Latino workers. The following year, the company decided to do something more. Publicly, executives talked about expanding programs that wooed college students from a wide variety of backgrounds to intern at Facebook.

Behind the scenes, the company dangled a carrot for recruiters: double points. Recruiters usually got one point for each candidate of theirs that took a job at Facebook. With the new incentive, they’d receive two points if that person was a “diversity hire” — someone who was a woman, or who was not white or Asian, according to two former recruiters.

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Points are a major metric for Facebook’s recruiters, and the double point system energized them. Those who don’t earn their expected number of points are put on a performance improvement program, two recruiters said. Recruiting teams gathered in a room for several hours a week to concentrate just on sourcing a diverse set of candidates, said one recruiter. They expanded their searches to include engineering schools in Africa and assigned candidates Facebook employee “buddies” of similar demographics for their on-site interviews to make them feel welcome.

But after about six months, their enthusiasm turned to frustration. The recruiters saw that many of their diversity candidates didn’t end up getting an offer. Two former recruiters blamed in part the engineering department’s candidate review process, a twice- or thrice-weekly meeting at which every engineering offer had to be approved.

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The very people the recruiters had been pushed to bring in were often blocked at the final hiring meeting, they said. Those were not the only candidates declined at the final stage, but getting “diversity candidates” hired at Facebook proved to be such a struggle than many recruiters stopped trying, even with the double point system, and went back to their usual strategies, two former recruiters said.

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