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Facebook's Hiring Process Hinders Push to Diversify Workforce

 
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Facebook's Hiring Process Hinders Push to Diversify Workforce

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 incentivising 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.

The engineering leaders making the ultimate choices, almost all white or Asian men, often assessed candidates on traditional metrics like where they attended college, whether they had worked at a top tech firm, or whether current Facebook employees could vouch for them, according to former recruiters, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about their work.

Focusing on where someone went to school or whom they know in the company can often exclude candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, said Joelle Emerson, a diversity consultant who helps tech companies make their hiring more inclusive. "The fact that people are doing hours of interviews and then getting into a room and then talking about where people went to school seems like the most baffling waste of time," she said. The final step should focus on how candidates performed during the interview process, she said.

"Facebook recruits from hundreds of schools and employers from all over the world, and most people hired at Facebook do not come through referrals from anyone at the company," a company spokeswoman wrote in a statement. "Once people begin interviewing at Facebook, we seek to ensure that our hiring teams are diverse. Our interviewers and those making hiring decisions go through our managing bias course and we remain acutely focused on improving our ability to hire people with different backgrounds and perspectives."

Despite efforts by recruiters, Facebook's demographics in technology roles - which includes engineers and some other job categories - have barely changed, according to its yearly diversity reports. 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 US 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. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has been a strong advocate of promoting and encouraging women in the workplace.

Urging recruiters to prioritize diversity without applying the same pressure to those making the final hiring decisions is common in Silicon Valley, said Emerson, the diversity consultant. Tech firms focus on recruiters and not on hiring managers "because it's far easier to think about bringing people into the funnel," she said. "It's harder to think about changing a broader process that a company has been using for maybe ten years."

She said that successful companies like Facebook are particularly reluctant to change a system they feel has worked well.

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. A point system is rare among Silicon Valley companies, Emerson said. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Facebook's point system in August.

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.

At these regular meetings, the people in the room could include the recruiters and "sourcers"- recruiters who originally found the candidate. Occasionally, a "voucher" - an employee who had referred the candidate, or had interviewed them - was present. A hiring manager, who sometimes had more say in who was hired, could also be there, according to three former recruiters.

But the final decision was made by representatives from a group of about 20 to 30 highly-ranked engineering leaders, according to two former recruiters. Each meeting usually had about two people from this group, which included some engineering leaders at the director and vice-president level and chief technology officer Michael Schroepfer, according to three former recruiters. Not all members of this group came to the candidate review meetings often, and it was not always the same members who came to the meetings, the former recruiters said.

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.

© 2016 Bloomberg L.P.

Tags: Facebook, Social
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