Do diversity programs ever cross the line?

Airbnb / Eng Employee24
Dec 26, 2018 28 Comments

I generally consider myself pretty liberal and am a strong proponent of diversity, but there’s one policy in the name of diversity that really does not sit well with me. Several companies in the Bay Area have special referral bonuses for referring underrepresented minorities, i.e. If you refer an engineer and they get hired you get a $5,000 referral bonus, but if you refer an underrepresented minority you will get a $10,000 bonus.

Whereas other diversity programs seem to target reducing barriers to entry within the market and reducing biases within the interview process (which I 100% support), increasing referral bonuses doesn’t seem to do either. And maybe this is just me being naive, but I don’t see how it even gets additional minorities into the funnel. Are there really people out there thinking “Oh, I wouldn’t even think about referring this person for $5000, but for $10,000 I’ll sing to a different tune”? So to me it just seems like racist virtue signaling.

Like, if Spotify noticed that its user base was prominently of one race, and they decided to target advertising and billboards towards underrepresented areas, that would be a-okay in my book. But if they all of the sudden started saying “Refer a friend, get a free month of premium. Refer a minority friend, get three free months of premium”, that wouldn’t sit well with me. It just feels wrong. And that’s kind of how I feel about these referral bonus structures.

I’m open to hearing other view points and evolving my own opinion, but I’m afraid if I were to start a dialogue in person I would be immediately labelled a bigot. So I turn to you Blind. Do you work at a company with these sort of policies? And do you feel they are moral and justified? If there’s a policy you don’t agree with, do you usually just keep quiet and nod along?

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TOP 28 Comments
  • Google wdgh
    Which companies are doing this?

    At Google, as a "diverse" candidate, a recruiter once reached out to me, went through my LinkedIn and asked me to refer candidates. It turns out it was a strategy to get more diverse candidates to apply.

    The assumption seems to be "diverse" people will know more "diverse" people, so let's give them a nudge.
    Dec 26, 2018 11
    • Google wdgh
      I don't think "referral bonus" = "how much you're worth to us." That's salary. And I doubt diverse candidates are getting paid more.

      Instead think of it as "cost to recruit," where the onus is now on the employee to find them (vs the company doing outreach) if they want the extra incentives.
      Dec 26, 2018
    • Airbnb / Eng Employee24
      OP
      Yeah, I like that way of looking at it. Going further into it, I think my deeper concern is that the program attempts to quantify the value of diversity. It says that acquiring a diverse candidate is worth $5000 more to us, and it feels wrong to quantify something like that. Obviously diversity carries value with it, but the second you try to put a precise dollar value on it, I think that’s a bad direction to be heading in. And I think that’s the fundamental belief of mine that’s causing me so much friction.
      Dec 26, 2018
    • Airbnb / Eng Employee24
      OP
      And so in my mind, it doesn’t matter if the 5k goes towards a referral bonus, or a signing bonus, or salary. They all signal the same thing to me.
      Dec 26, 2018
    • OpenTable Meliodas
      Yes, they all signal the same thing, that the cost of acquisition is higher for the company.

      The company can spend more on recruiters expenses or the company can spend more on referral expenses to achieve the same goals.
      Dec 26, 2018
    • Google wdgh
      Once again this isn't quantifying the "value of diversity." It's quantifying the "cost of acquiring diversity." They're different ideas.
      Dec 26, 2018
  • New EKPg16
    Oh yeah, these things are going too far now. My favorite is featuring people who don’t do shit on a project over the people who did all the work because they are “minorities”. Apple pushes the fuck out of that one
    Dec 26, 2018 0
  • Niantic FYfD57
    They needly do the kindful.
    Dec 26, 2018 1
    • Airbnb / Eng Employee24
      OP
      ~$350k TC, not relevant to the conversation though
      Dec 26, 2018
  • New
    nfs

    New

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    Booking.com
    nfsmore
    Maybe it will help you to think about it this way: a company needs diversity in roles just like in nationalities. So, if a company was short on SREs, they might offer a higher referral bonus in order to balance that out. It doesn't happen in my company, but I'm pretty sure the motivation is to create a balance that didn't happen organically.
    Dec 26, 2018 2
    • Airbnb / Eng Employee24
      OP
      Eh, I’m not sure that logic helps. By that logic it would also be okay to pay minorities a higher base salary as well, in the same way that an SRE might be paid a higher base salary than a customer service rep, which would be outright racist in my mind
      Dec 26, 2018
    • New
      nfs

      New

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      Booking.com
      nfsmore
      Money is a very common method of incentivsing people, regarding pay by nationality, it's possible that to attract certain talent, you would need to pay higher to make a competitive offer i.e. S person coming from a rich country relative to a person coming from a poor country.
      This is part of the negotiation power one has. It doesn't mean I agree with it, and nor the way salaries are negotiated/determined, but it is supply vs demand.
      Dec 26, 2018
  • Autodesk vessen
    OP look at it this way. Simply referring someone of minority status does not guarantee the you will receive any money. That person still has to do the work of getting the job. So the policy is not virtue signalling or racist. The fact of the matter is that people tend to have more colleagues and connections from a similar background so that is where most recommendations come from. Setting up a way to incentivise recommending minority candidates is just expanding the same opportunity to other that might not have as many connections.

    I do understand where you are coming from though. At first glance it can seem like preferential treatment, but it really isn’t at all.
    Dec 26, 2018 0
  • Intel pioneered these increased (double normal referrals) URM referral bonuses a few years back with the Diversity VP that we sent to Google. We also tied minority headcount target to manager performance -- how you you like Dem apples?
    Dec 26, 2018 3
    • Airbnb / Eng Employee24
      OP
      Did Intel release data on whether the URM referral bonuses were effective in getting additional minorities in the door? It just seems so weird to me that someone would be willing to refer a minority they know for $10,000 but not for $5,000. Either way, you stand to get a bunch of “free money”.

      But obviously that’s just how I think, and to think everyone thinks the same way as me would be naive.
      Dec 26, 2018
    • You think that Intel will release any data that would suggest that the Diversity initiatives were not or less than effective? Intel achieving "full representation" a few months back and hitting Diversity targets ahead of schedule is a point of pride for the company (we get blasted company wide emails on this every so often).

      Just go to SJSU and back up the truck at the Hispanic and Black Engineering societies and make some $$$. Let's just say when these Diversity policies was implemented a few years ago, all my team's new hires were Asian/Indian women. My group VP emphasized that all our hires were women was an accomplishment in of itself (that is how bad Intel Execs drilled Diversity into the brains of lower managers). Those hires also told me Intel's interviews were among the easiest they went through for tech companies in the Bay Area.
      Dec 26, 2018
    • Airbnb / Eng Employee24
      OP
      Maybe Intel defines referrals differently, but everywhere I’ve worked referrals are only supposed to be people you’ve worked with closely / can personally vouch for
      Dec 26, 2018
  • Cisco / Product cyvN48
    No this is not a problem because it is righting a wrong. Most developers are from India in specific areas and they strongly only recommend other Indians for jobs. This causes and imbalance and giving a bigger bonus for others try’s to resolve this imbalance
    Dec 26, 2018 2
    • Airbnb / Eng Employee24
      OP
      At the same time, I wonder if having two tiers of referral bonuses actually addresses this issue. Often developers have friends/colleagues from similar backgrounds, as you mentioned. But increasing the referral bonus wouldn’t have any affect on broadening their social network. And those who do have a diverse social network I’d imagine are already willing to refer quality candidates for $5,000, since no matter how you slice it, that’s still a lot of “free” money to be had
      Dec 26, 2018
    • Apple hMWF54
      I suspect companies are still trying to figure out something that works. Referral $$ is just one tool, no different thank other kind of incentives like tax refund for electric cars.
      Dec 26, 2018
  • Salesforce 🥃#neat
    I disagree with this tactic. Rewarding higher bonuses for URM referral hires is useless. Same goes for any referral campaign for a specific group beyond your standard bonus. It’s about knowing your audience and effective campaigning.

    I agree that people refer their best, despite race gender religion etc. I like to think that if I know my company is looking for SWEs or AEs, I’ll search my LinkedIn network and refer the most qualified so I get that bonus - I don’t need a ‘special’ reward to categorize my network by race or gender. I’ll refer everyone I know who’s qualified. It’s up to the hiring manager to decide who’s most qualified to hire. Period.

    I also agree that birds of a feather flock together so rather than offer more money, make sure you’re campaigning at relevant channels if you’re looking to increase your pipeline of URM candidates. For example, does your company have ERGs? Ask for 5 mins at their next team meeting to promote your STANDARD referral program and throw in a few ‘hot jobs’ to get them thinking about specific roles. Adding more money for URM hires doesn’t do anything.
    Jan 11 0
  • Facebook Whateverrs
    That actually sounds like a great idea to me. If the world of talent is diverse, and your employees are not, having an unbiased interview process won't be enough to fully tap a diverse talent pool. Your employees are usually going to refer people like themselves, and you need leads. You're still going to subject them to the same interview process. It's certainly more valuable to reach candidates who otherwise might not have been reached.

    I'm a white male software engineer, and I have multiple friends at each of google/fb. Letting one of them to refer me to get a bonus isn't really adding a lot of value to the company. If I were less socially connected to the firm and an equivalently qualified engineer, I'd think that referral would be more valuable.
    Dec 26, 2018 0