The company is using blind testing to recruit engineers from diverse backgrounds. It scores candidates on tests without requiring them to reveal their names or educational background. A senior engineer at Slack said some of the successful applicants are coming from lower-prestige colleges like San Jose State University, rather than elite colleges like Stanford University.
“The notion that hiring from the elite schools creates the best engineers is not true,” said Leslie Miley, a director of engineering at Slack. Miley was speaking in a panel discussion at a diversity conference in San Francisco on July 30. The event was organised by Code 2040, the nonprofit that is helping Black and Latino engineers to get jobs in the Tech industry.
Miley was a senior engineer at companies such as Google, Apple, and Twitter over an 11-year period. When he left Twitter, he published a post on Medium that highlighted the obstacles he faced at the company when he pushed his bosses to hire diverse candidates.
“Candidates who were dinged for not being fast enough to solve problems, not having internships at ‘strong’ companies and who took too long to finish their degree. Only after hours of lobbying would they be hired. Needless to say, the majority of them performed well,” he wrote.
Slack, which makes real-time messaging and other team communication tools, is one of the fastest-growing companies in the tech industry. It has more than 3 million active users and has raised $540 million in funding.
A report Slack issued in February showed that nearly 9% of the company’s US engineers were Black and 5.6% were Latinos. Forty-three per cent of the company’s managers identify as women. By contrast, 2% of Facebook employees are Black, and 4% are Hispanic.
The tech industry has pledged to hire more employees from African American and Latino backgrounds. Leading technology firms like Google and Facebook have started issuing diversity reports but little progress is being made in hiring people who are not from White and Asian backgrounds. Both Google and Facebook reported similar levels of minority employees in 2016 as they did in 2015.
Miley said employee referrals were part of the problem because people tend to refer candidates who look like them. Companies that lack a diverse workforce must look beyond the personal networks of their employees, he said.
A company’s leadership must set the tone if the firm is serious about diversity, he said.
“This is something that can only happen from the top. Stewart [Butterfield] can tweet: ‘I’m looking for a black engineer and he can get more data than I can. It’s true … I think this is one of the reasons Slack has been a little bit better at diversifying. It is because it does come from the top,” Miley said.
Emmanuel Olaoye is a former correspondent for Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence in Washington, D.C. He is now a contributing editor with an interest in startups and African financial regulation.