The simple steps Zillow took to become a more diverse employer

Four out of 10 Zillow employees are female.
Four out of 10 Zillow employees are female.
Image: Courtesy Zillow
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Like a lot of tech companies, the Zillow Group has a diversity problem. To solve it, the company has made small changes in how it recruits and hires. None of the steps are radical, but together have resulted in more women and minority members joining the company, and more moving up its ranks.

Silicon Valley’s record of hiring minorities remains dismal, with vanishingly small percentages of minorities in leadership. But Zillow’s experience—41% of its employees now are women, and there’s been a 6% increase of women in tech roles at the company since 2016 —shows improvement is possible.

An important step for Zillow, says head recruiter Annie Rihn, was spending time to understand why the company had a problem. “The data showed we were unintentionally creating barriers in our process,” she says. “We were causing people to select out of the process, instead of select in.”

Fixing the job listings

Zillow, which operates a number of real-estate focused websites, is based in Seattle and has about 3,600 employees. It hires roughly 100 to 200 workers a month.

To learn why women and minorities weren’t applying in larger numbers, Zillow looked at its job postings and whether their descriptions of roles were off-putting. One problem, Rihn says, is that Zillow’s postings had a long list of requirements, not all of which were essential to the advertised job. While white men generally have no problem applying for jobs regardless of their credentials, “women and people of color will self-select out and not apply if they don’t meet all the requirements,” says Rihn.

Along with editing the list of requirements, Zillow also tinkered with its educational expectations. Instead of a four-year degree in computer science being required, it is now “preferred.” Technical assessments were moved to later in the hiring process, to help keep skittish applicants from bailing from the process prematurely.

To avoid predjudicial language, Zillow ran its listing through software designed by Textio, to flag phrasings that show even subtle hints of bias. In an example the company shared with Quartz At Work, a posting for a customer-service representative in Ohio at dotloop, a Zillow subsidiary, started this way:

dotloop is changing the way of Real Estate by eliminating paperwork from negotiated transactions. We are seeking a passionate Customer Support representative with the commitment to be successful. We need a fast learner with attention to detail, tenacity, and a strong motivation to excel in this fast moving position.

Overall, the job posting was rated as “above average” but had “a slightly masculine tone,” according to Textio’s algorithm, which compared it to almost 25,000 similar postings. Essentially, it didn’t have enough verbs or enough statements using “you,” and it used too much corporate jargon.

Zillow revamped the posting so it asked more questions of the reader, was shorter, and had fewer bullet points. Textio said the new version had a “slightly feminine tone” and rated it “outstanding.”

dotloop is changing the way of Real Estate by eliminating paperwork from negotiated transactions. We are seeking a passionate person with the dedication to help customers. Are you someone who considers customer service as a vital part of a company? Do you have excellent problem-solving skills, with a technical aptitude? Are you quick [sic] and flexible learner? Do you want to join a team that flourishes with an energizing environment?

Since Zillow began runnings its ads through Textio last year, it has seen a 12% increase in female applicants, Rihn says.

Don’t hire for culture fit

Tech companies love to talk about their culture, and Zillow is no exception. “Culture is woven into everything we do, it’s part of our DNA,” Rihn says.

But Rihn also knows that hiring people based on how managers think they’ll fit into Zillow’s culture is a good way to ensure new recruits are a lot like the existing workforce. Instead, the company is emphasizing skills and common values in its hires.

Interviewers now ask standardized questions, to reduce the odds of personal biases creeping into decision making. While a hiring manager could once end a candidacy by simply claiming the prospective hire wasn’t “a good fit,” they now have to justify their opposition by explaining how the candidate’s values didn’t align with Zillow’s.

The company also is moving toward ensuring all candidates face diverse interview panels, although Rihn concedes at this point it’s still more of an ambition. “We’re not there yet. We don’t have enough women engineers” to commit them to interviewing, she says.

For Zillow, there’s a business case for having a diverse workforce. The company serves communities of all ethnicities, and needs its employees to reflect its customer base, Rihn says. “We make better decisions when we have diverse perspectives at the table,” she says.