Hey, tech companies: your employee referral policy may be violating US law

I think alot about how to create and nurture diverse, high-performance teams and workplaces. That ranges from being vigilant about the language used in job adverts and in any company materials for which I am responsible to keeping an eye on whether recruiting and other company materials show only white men.

And I think alot about how hard it can be for a company full of young straight white men – read, most technology startups – with a hiring strategy heavily reliant on employee referrals to recruit any older brown queer women.

Because unless companies are intentional about diversifying their applicant pool, the referred candidates will tend to look, sound, and dress like the employees who referred them. People tend to refer (and hire) people who look like them; like attracts like.

This is often not the result of intentional bias or explicit discrimination, but intent (or lack thereof) doesn’t mean you won’t be held accountable for the outcomes, especially from a US legal perspective.

Emphasis mine, quote from a statement by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on prohibited practices:

It is also illegal for an employer to recruit new employees in a way that discriminates against them because of their race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. For example, an employer’s reliance on word-of-mouth recruitment by its mostly Hispanic work force may violate the law if the result is that almost all new hires are Hispanic.

Take a moment and look around your office. Are your colleagues –  especially the folks in senior management, and the ones with hiring responsibility – mostly white men? Do you depend heavily on employee referrals?

Might be time to review your hiring practices.

[Obligatory “I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice” here]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *