SAN FRANCISCO — Achieving a diverse workplace has been a tough task for high-tech companies across Silicon Valley, but Pinterest is taking a low-tech approach: It’s simply asking current employees to refer more-diverse candidates.
The 6-year-old company announced Friday its senior engineering leaders have all committed to referring at least two candidates from underrepresented groups during the next three months as a way to give more women and minorities opportunities for engineering roles at Pinterest.
A leader in tech diversity since engineer Tracy Chou took on an activist role in 2013, Pinterest said it issued a similar challenge across the entire engineering team late last year. The company measured the results by employing two six-week periods, the first just before and the second just after the issuing of the challenge, in which the firm asked its coders to refer 10 times as many minority candidates and two times as many women candidates. On a comparable basis, it saw 55 times as many candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds and a 24 percent increase in female candidates.
“We hypothesized that one strategy for increasing diversity in the referral pool might be as simple as prompting employees to refer candidates from underrepresented backgrounds,” Pinterest said in a Medium blog post. “While networks may be homogenous, we suspected that most people have probably worked with excellent candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, even if they don’t come to mind immediately.”
Pinterest developed the challenge with the help of Paradigm, a firm focused on tech-diversity strategy. The two are hoping that simply referring more-diverse candidates will help Pinterest hire more women and minorities, but Pinterest also said there is much more work left to do.
“We know that referrals alone will not make Pinterest the diverse company we want to be,” the firm said. “We are also working to build a more diverse candidate pipeline in other ways, such as recruiting from a broader set of colleges and launching an apprenticeship program.”
To help its engineering leaders, Pinterest said it will provide those individuals with opportunities to go to diverse conference and networking events as well as one-on-one coaching.
Last year, Pinterest made waves by becoming one of the first tech companies to announce specific goals for its hiring of underrepresented groups. The company is currently 21 percent female, 2 percent Hispanic and 1 percent black in tech roles, and it has committed to growing its engineering workforce to 30 percent female and 8 percent underrepresented minorities this year.
Pinterest’s engineering-referral challenge came just a few months after an embarrassing episode at Twitter Inc. that exposed the lack of diversity on the microblogging site’s engineering team. As he left the company, Leslie MIley, Twitter’s highest-ranking minority engineer, said lack of diversity was hurting its product.
However, Pinterest is not the first firm to employ this type of strategy for tech diversity. Last year, Intel Corp. announced it would award its employees double referral bonuses for every referral of a diverse candidate that resulted in a hire. Pinterest doesn’t give out referral bonuses, but the company said it likes this strategy “because it engages the entire organization in taking ownership for our diversity efforts.”