How Etsy doubled its hiring of black and Latinx employees in one year

Work in progress.
Work in progress.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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In 2017, Etsy endured a leadership “revolution,” as The New York Times put it. When board member Josh Silverman replaced Chad Dickerson, the well-loved former CEO, employees were reportedly concerned that the online retailer for independent artisans was losing its uniquely anti-corporate soul. And a big part of the company’s identity was its commitment to inclusivity, particularly, at that time, for women and the LGBTQ community.

But Etsy has actually boosted diversity on its staff since then, according to a company spokesperson. And this week it announced a significant milestone: it doubled the number of black and Latinx employees hired in 2019 from the previous year. Black and Latinx employees represented 15% of the tech firm’s 2019 US hires, and the company says the majority of the positions filled were engineering roles.

Of course, that still means 85% of the jobs filled did not go to black and Latinx candidates. What’s more, employees from those two populations still represent only 11% of Etsy’s US workforce, up from 8.5% in 2018.

Etsy has just more than 1,000 employees worldwide and will only tell Quartz that “the majority” are in the US, so this could mean slightly more than 100 people at the firm identify as black or Latinx.

Still, Elizabeth Spector Louden, Etsy’s head of diversity and inclusion, says that although the firm’s total numbers of black and Latinx employees remain low, the company is proud of what it has accomplished so far. “We think it’s meaningful progress and demonstrates that you can make meaningful progress quickly, when you have alignment throughout the company, including company leadership,” she said.

So exactly how did it get this far?

Crucially, in 2018, Etsy created a diversity and inclusion team for the first time. It’s comprised of five employees who are embedded in various parts of the business, including in the recruiting and people development departments. The company also “rebalanced its referral program,” according to Spector Louden, explaining that managers were careful to talk about Etsy’s diversity goals every time the referral program was discussed, and that her team also created a road show about that incentive program that travelled to Etsy’s national offices, meeting the appropriate employee resource groups.

As a result, Etsy reversed a pattern common in many tech companies, in which referrals tend to replicate the company’s existing racial or gender composition. In this case, says Spector Louden, Etsy “increased both hiring and employee-referral based hiring in each group.”

The firm also did all the things that other major tech organizations do to attract potential staff from specific populations that have been historically marginalized. It rolled out a career development mentorship program that partnered black and Latinx junior employees with people in senior roles in the firm. It made a strong effort to connect with potential hires at events like the HUE Tech Summit, and engaged with relevant community groups on social media, Spector Louden explained in a blog post. It also aligned performance evaluation and hiring rubrics to reflect the company’s diversity goals and “provided managers with highly interactive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training,” she wrote.

What’s more, to stay connected to a diverse pool of potential future employees, Etsy has partnered with several programming training schools—including The Flatiron School, Npower, VetsWhoCode and Render ATL—that are known for seeking students from communities that aren’t among the usual suspects in tech talent pipelines.

But Spector Louden recognizes that there’s still room for improvement. She says that not enough senior positions are held by black or Latinx employees, calling this “an area of opportunity.” Though half of Etsy’s corporate board members are women, only one member is black. There are no black or Latinx executives on its six-person leadership team.

Etsy’s excitement about its current statistics is best understood in context. As CNBC noted, at Google, only 3.8% of the company’s US workforce identified as Latino, and 2.7% as black, in 2019. Twitter has reported that 5.7% of its total workforce was represented by black employees and 4.7% by Latinx talent last year.

Tech firms have discovered that dismantling decades of systemic discrimination will require sustained efforts over several years, and a seismic cultural shift. Hopefully one day these small gains will add up.