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Are employee referral programs killing diversity in tech?

No secret that there is a lack of diversity in tech. There are many arguments for why this is and how to solve it. I'm not suggesting there is a silver bullet but a newer idea to help solve the issue is to stop employee referral programs. My thinking is that if your workforce is already lacking in diversity, their friends or the people they refer will likely be the same - bringing in more people that are similar to current employees. The tension is that the benefit of these programs is their ability to help you build a team - which is obviously important, but does that benefit outweigh the disadvantages enough to continue them even if they greatly reduce our chances of a diverse workforce? Would individuals actually stop using them?


19 Replies

Haim Toeg
1
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Haim Toeg Entrepreneur
Customer Success, Services and Support Executive - Available For New Opportunities
It's the people making the hiring decisions who are responsible. Referral programs are only one source of candidates, but they are easy to implement and less risky and therefore very tempting.
Ryan O'Donnell
0
1
Ryan O'Donnell Advisor
CEO & Co-Founder: EmployUs | Serial Social Entrepreneur
Definitely agree on diversity but not on throwing them out--limiting a referral program to only employees over the long-term can reduce diversity if you're not careful. Referrals have and always will be the best source of talent so I'd recommend companies open up their referral programs to a wider audience to keep the quality but eliminate the negative impacts on diversity.

No one really likes paying expensive recruiters or using job boards but we will trust someone helping a friend get hired. That's why I've started my company, EmployUs, to allow anyone (employees or not) to refer their friends to open jobs at top employers. We found opening referrals to a wider audience allows for greater diversity in the talent pipeline and a host of other benefits.

We're in beta right now in Raleigh-Durham so we haven't perfected it either but I'd welcome any suggestions on how we can make it better (or grow with you on the team)!
Thomas Sutrina
0
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Thomas Sutrina Entrepreneur
Inventor at Retired Pursue Personal interrests and family
Talk to HR and ask what information they can give out about past employees. Very little and nothing that will help the another HR person pick good candidates. Want diversity then provide information that is valuable to the company looking for employees.
I entered the work just after Vietnam ended and diversity quotas were mandated. Women engineers got job offers without even signing up to talk to the company when they visited the campus. As a male we joked that you would have to buy your own coffee at a job interview. So there is a down side to diversity that is structured which will be the case if you are keeping statistics. Because the statistics will reflect at best the actual candidate pool which in most cases will not have the proper diversity in the eyes of the judges. Oh they should not be judging because they are not impartial, that is why they choose to be judging in the first place..
Robert R. Tillman
4
5
President and CEO, RRT Partners LLC
I have been a many time company founder and CEO and have worked in the Silicon Valley tech industry for 35 years. In my experience, tech companies hire primarily for competence rather than for diversity. If they do not, then they simply do not survive. They care that their code works, not who writes it. You cannot fake technical ability. Code either works or it does not. Tech companies will hire WHOMEVER get results. Hence, the influx of Asian, East Indian, Russian and Eastern European programmers and company founders. Talent is the coin of the realm in the tech world and tech companies cannot afford to turn away any talented people. If certain talented people were not hired owing to discrimintation, then some smart entrepreneur would take advantage of this fact to build a competitive company. The real reason that you do not see more blacks and hispanics in tech companies is the lack of good candidates. Attend any UC Berkeley computer science class and note the gender and ethnicity of the students. How many black and hispanic computer science graduates does the U.S. produce in a year? Robert R. Tillman
Robert R. Tillman
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1
President and CEO, RRT Partners LLC
Also, if anyone can direct me to a source for these highly talented but underutilized minorities, please let me know. I would love to find these people and make money together with them. Robert R. Tillman
Cheyenne Jones
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Cheyenne Jones Entrepreneur
CEO/Founder
"The tension is that the benefit of these programs..." I don't understand what you are saying, did you mean The *intention* is that the benefit of these programs..."? If so, it's a might be a worthy suggestion.
Jack Hembrough
1
1
Jack Hembrough Advisor
Member, Board of Advisors at Pwnie Express
Robert is spot on. We hire people who can do the job. They are hard to find; the good ones hard to keep. Diversity is a natural by product of competence. Anonymous' premise is off base. He/she should be promoting his/her political agenda elsewhere. It does not belong in this forum.
Demelza Campbell
3
0
Tech Workforce Program Manager/Recruiter at DOJ
So this is a complicated question: I recruit individuals with technical skills and, to be honest, there are plenty of positively brilliant diverse men and women that are not hired owing to discriminatory practices that are so inherent they don't know they are there.

Referral systems are very much inherent to your network; therefore if your network is from the same 5 block radius that you have always been familiar with and never ventures over about 10 blocks, it is effectively out of sight and out of mind until it affects you. There are multiple organizations that have seen this and have coalesced around these kids who code in their free time, on their own and outside of silicon valley; organizations such as code2040.org or the national society of black engineers or the society of women engineers or blackgirlscode; they are developing the next generation of tech which is why tech companies are spending so much time recruiting directly from them.

I don't think that this thread was directed solely to blacks and hispanics per a previous comment, but the reality is that there are good candidates, they do exist and to state that they do not is missing the results of the last 20 years of internet and accessibility. There are more schools and groups and organizations and certifications and methodologies than UC Berkley. A lot of tech individuals are self taught and/or gain certifications, therefore bypassing college altogether.

There are many reasons why referral systems are flawed; the aforementioned comments prove it.
Only hiring the people you know, from your limited circle and view of life, products, processes, etc., limits your ability to move forward.

"Groupthink" is also a resulting issue.

I hope this makes sense. Good conversation.
Robert R. Tillman
1
5
President and CEO, RRT Partners LLC
So where are all the great companies that these people are founding? Why is it that we have company founders from China, India, Eastern Europe, Russia, Israel, etc. but only a small trickle from certain (and only certain) minority communities on the U.S.? No one knows the color of your skin, your religion, your sexual orientation, when they use your iPhone app. All they know is whether it works and whether or not it does what they want. I am working right now with a self-taught coder who never attended college but who founded a very successful app company, Route4Me. Being self-taught does not seem to have held him back. As a many time tech entrepreneur, I will tell you that the only color that I care about is green, i.e. the color of money. If you do not first face up honestly to the real reason for certain groups lack of success in tech, you will never change the situation. You simply cannot fake lack of technical competence. The code either works, or it does not. Robert R. Tillman
Demelza Campbell
2
0
Tech Workforce Program Manager/Recruiter at DOJ
So am I to understand, that because you don't see them personally, that they dont exist? Please know that is a real question. FD is a vehicle where there are many people of color or women that are doing exactly that: becoming entrepreneuers. As I'm sure you know, it is not an easy process nor one that is always sucessful the first, second or third time out of the gate.

And apologies, but I was unaware that we had transitioned to the area of entrepreneurship.

If the only color you see is green and your bar for success is the aforementioned, then good. but the question is if employee referral systems limit diversity and it is my opinion that it restricts it to a persons limited view and access points.
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