Improving Diversity in Hiring

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Caveat: Diversity is more than gender. I’ve used gender in some of these examples because I have enough anecdotal data to support these theories with respect to gender but I don’t want to extrapolate beyond that. In general my policy is to test and measure women because we can actually have data for that, but then follow the same strategies for all under-indexed groups.


We talk about “Diversity and Inclusion” but perhaps it should be “Inclusion and Diversity” because inclusion needs to come first. Don’t hire people into an environment they can’t be successful in. On a practical level, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. On a human level, it’s harmful.

Inclusion

Inclusion is about how welcome people will feel if they are there. Consider if you have to be a certain “type” of person (outgoing? heavy drinking? hyper-competitive?) to be successful on the team. Are these characteristics really necessary? Would your team benefit from people who are quieter and more thoughtful, more collaborative? Would those people feel welcome – and able to be successful – if you hired them?

If you realise your team is hyper-competitive, for example, you might want to think about how that is encouraged by the hiring process and the environment you have on the team. How much of that do you have control over? If it’s created by your promotion process, can you influence it?

A good rule for inclusion pre-work to diversity is to stop doing things you would have to change if the demographics of your team better reflected the demographics of the world. If you find yourself watching interactions or jokes and thinking they wouldn’t be okay if there were women / people of color / lgbt / … people on the team… maybe shut that stuff down now if you ever want to have women / people of color / lgbt / … people on the team.

On-boarding

What is your on-boarding process like? How long does it take for someone to be ramped up and productive? What kind of help and support do you give them?

Some things to consider:

• It’s much easier to onboard someone well than to fix it later.

• Instead of considering where you most need people, ask where on the team can we most support a new person.

Juniors

It’s tempting to improve diversity by hiring juniors. I think the ability to onboard a junior engineer is a measure of the health of a team. Be honest – is your team really healthy enough for one?

Some things to consider:

• For women at least anecdotally, the first job seems to be a huge predictor of whether they will stay in tech.

• If you care about D&I, you will be mindful of the compound effects to the individual of screwing up here.

Pipeline

Once you’re sure your pipeline doesn’t lead to a sewage plant, you can work on it.

Brand Awareness

A lot of Diversity as Performance Art is this PR exercise of women who are known for working at companies whilst female. This works to a certain extent, I think particularly for hiring more junior folk. For a more meaningful and sustained impact, look for ways to give under-indexed folk more recognition for their actual work – what you actually pay them for – being an awesome engineer, or product manager, or designer, or whatever it is they do.

This works more generally, too. This is one of my favourite comments on a recent launch post from my team.

recent launch post from my team.

Mentoring

These may not be people you will hire now, but you might hire them later. Either way, people talk. As my friend Julia put it:

As my friend Julia put it-In some ways, what Julia is talking about is mentoring – proactively building relationships and supporting people makes you someone that people want to work with when it’s the right time. It’s also something that makes them suggest to their friends to look at, too.

Personally I have somewhat mixed feelings about mentoring which I’m not going to get into here. However I’ve found that making myself visible in the community and offering some amount of mentoring definitely 1) makes people willing to circulate job postings for my team in their network and 2) generates connections that may result in working together in the longer term.

Job Postings

Use Textio to refine your job posting and ensure you’re not using male-coded language. Be honest, but aspirational (but not delusional). E.g. if you want more collaboration on the team then emphasise collaboration (but first make sure you have some signs of healthy collaboration).

Targeted Outreach

Consider where you are placing job ads. If you are looking to recruit under-indexed folk, skip Hacker News and look for places where under-indexed people are more likely to read.

With Technically Speaking we estimate our audience is at least half women. We also work really hard to be inclusive of other under-indexed groups. There are job posting sites with 10x or more reach total – but nowhere close to the level of reach we have with under-indexed folk.

If you’re looking at events as a way to recruit consider things like, whether they have a code of conduct, what the representation is like on stage, and off stage (whether they offer diversity scholarships is a good question to ask).

If you start evaluating inclusion and representation as you evaluate how to spend your recruitment budget, you’ll likely make different choices on how to spend it.

Specific Outreach

The more senior you go, the more you can expect to have to reach out directly to people. I don’t want the to be taken as a sign that you should hire people you know. More that for senior women my observation is that they are likely to go and work for someone they know.

Work on your own network and make yourself available. Follow more under-indexed folk on Twitter even after you discover they are not just offering an education but being normal human beings with varied interests. Make an effort to be more involved in communities where there is better diversity and more effort for inclusion. E.g. choose “welcoming Javascript evening with soft drinks and childcare” over the “brogramming with beer” event. Choose the Slack community with a strong – and enforced – Code of Conduct over the one which is fine, except for that channel, and that one, oh wait is there really a channel for…

Hiring

Now you’re hiring! Yay!

The good news is that whatever your applicant pool looks like by gender, your next step should have a better ratio – because women are much more likely to self-select out of roles they are “not qualified” for and men are more likely to have a go.

Next, consider context. One thing I care about a lot in hiring for my current team is that people have experience with complex applications over longer time-frames. This can be a hard thing to have if you’ve mainly worked in consultancy – which is often the case for people in developing countries. Aim to be equitable rather than equal. If someone comes from a place with less opportunity, factor that in as you evaluate them.

Prioritise in your queue. Some hiring processes are designed to make people “prove they want it” but anything that selects for that will select for people for whom failure is safer – so, white men. Be prepared to be a bit more pro-active and a bit more on top of the process for under-indexed folk – they’re much less likely to chase you.

Showcase existing diversity. Volunteer – naturally – information that will make it clear that people who aren’t white men can be successful in the environment (do this regardless of the perceived gender and race of the interviewee). As they ask you questions about projects or team organisation choose your examples.

Consider how inclusive they would be to others. One of the things I find interesting as I interview is the people (well: men) who are rude to me as part of the process. Whilst at the Conglomerate I would often see men who had “one bad interview” with a woman getting let through anyway, in general I now try to work with people who consider that a deal breaker. Pay attention to their language, how they interact with under-indexed folk on the team, and how they react to inclusive examples.

Make your process welcoming. There’s a lot of discussion about good hiring processes. The bad news is that we are constrained to design systems we will be successful at, so it’s impossible to discuss these things except from a place of bias. This is why most discussions on these topics are not that helpful (this also applies to promotion systems). The good news is that you get most of the benefit by making a conscious effort throughout not to be an asshole. Be kind to people, clear, and respectful of their time. Insist on this from everyone involved in the process. It really goes a long way.

Factor out anxiety. In general, anxiety in the candidate is just noise in the system – hopefully the environment they end up working in is not one that causes them to live in a state of panic. Make an effort to be understanding of anxiety and to reduce it where possible, and you’ll get a much more useful idea of how they operate and how they would fit into your team.

This Seems Like a Lot of Work

It is. But it doesn’t get easier with time. You may as well start today.

This article first appeared at Accidentally in Code.

Cate Huston

Cate Huston has spent her career working on mobile technology and documenting everything she learns using WordPress. Now she combines the two as Automattic’s mobile lead. She co-curates Technically Speaking and admins the New-(ish) Manager Slack. You can find her on Twitter at @catehstn and at accidentlyincode.com.

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