Three years ago, alarmed by industry statistics, we set about investigating our recruitment shortcomings to see what could be done to make our team more diverse. We have since learned how even small changes in our behaviour can have a positive effect on how we operate as a company. We want to share some of our experiences in the hope that they might help other technology companies who are also keen to recruit more inclusively.
Women and non-binary genders account for less than half of engineers at most tech companies in the U.S., with only 26% of professional computing jobs held globally by women in 2017. Data released in 2016 showed that less than 3% of employees in Silicon Valley were black, and less than 7% were Hispanic.
Silicon Valley labour force
A shocking 46% of London's tech companies don't believe that a diverse workforce translates to a company's growth. And out of 40,000 companies based in London in 2016, nearly 1,000 had an entirely male workforce. Which is bonkers.
While a diverse workplace doesn’t always lead to a sudden spike in profits; it does contribute to improving customer experience, company decision-making, and happier colleagues, which translate to greater returns in the long term. So, why are tech companies intent on maintaining a monoculture when a diverse company leads to greater financial success?
The answer from many tech companies is that they’re not, it’s just that there’s a problem with the industry "pipeline".
"We would be diverse if only we could find the candidates!" they cry.
But you can find the candidates. As Cale Guthrie Weissman says, “the idea there is a dearth of skilled minority job applicants has been disproven time and time again.” And Jordyn Holman, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, says,“In 2014 to 2015, black students earning a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics accounted for 7.1 percent of graduates in those fields, according to the Department of Education. Yet in Silicon Valley, black employees made up less than half that.”
Cale Guthrie Weissmann: "The idea there is a dearth of skilled minority job applicants has been disproven time and time again."
If you’re facing a "pipeline problem", you’re more likely not doing enough to attract a diverse range of people. Here are some tips, based on the changes we made, to help improve your inclusivity.
1. Look before you leap (and write a plan!)
A 2016 study from First Round Capital found that only 14% of responding companies had a formal plan for inclusion, and 23% had no strategy at all - not even one in the works. So if you don’t have one, you’re not alone!
Changing your hiring practices isn’t always easy, especially if you’re a small company that’s scaling fast. We doubled in size over the last year and a half, and are still growing. However, we stuck to our recruitment plan by sharing our values with every single member of the team, and by ensuring our new hiring techniques were a top priority.
2. Do it for the right reasons
The idea is not to hire women, non-binary, and minority people because they make you look good. As Gina Glantz and Morra Aarons-Mele say, “intentionally or not, some public-facing initiatives wind up functioning like camouflage; leaders may hope that those efforts constitute meaningful progress, when in reality they just paper over how much progress there’s left to be made.”
So look out for tokenism. Feelings of tokenism can be hard to prevent when you’re hiring into an organisation with a lack of representation. People who enter workplaces where they feel they are the “only one” can feel isolated and may want to leave. However, there are things you can do to make a difference. Are your company socials something that everyone feels comfortable with? What about when you’re leading a meeting? Do people listen to each other? Do they feel safe to express a different opinion?
Do your job descriptions attract a wide range of applicants?
3. No razmatazzzzzz...
If you’re only attracting male candidates, or a particular ethnic / cultural group, it’s worth considering how you’re describing your job openings or reaching out to potential candidates.
One of the things we’ve learned is that women don’t look for work in the same way as men. While women tend to apply for jobs they’re over-qualified for, it’s the reverse for men. You may have heard the statistic that men will apply for jobs that they only meet 60% of the criteria for; but women only apply when it's 100%.
We found that simplifying job descriptions to strike a careful balance between the level of expertise required and not putting people off works really well. You can then discuss the role in more detail during the interview.
According to Zip Recruiter, job listings with gender-neutral wording generate 42% more responses than those without. However, an incredible 92% of job descriptions in the technology industry still have a strong male bias.
We fell into this trap. Our job descriptions used to appeal more to a male audience because we included words such as “strong”, “competitive”, and “target driven”, with vague requirements. Since adopting gender-neutral phrasing, we’ve seen more women apply, with the happy offshoot being that the calibre of all our candidates has risen as well.
4. You may be your own worst enemy
The idea that "we recruit in our own image" runs true for many companies. People tend to gravitate towards those that remind them of themselves. A lot of this is to do with unconscious bias.
Unfortunately, we all have unconscious biases, it’s human nature. Our brain relies on mental shortcuts to quickly process the world around us. However, they can be very unhelpful so we need to learn how to counteract them.
One way is to recognise your own unconscious bias throughout the recruitment process. For example, Scott, a Human Resources Executive speaking on LeanIn.org, encourages us to question deep-rooted assumptions that can have a huge impact on peoples’ career progression: “We underestimate women’s performance, and over-estimate men. Women are hired based on past accomplishments. Men are hired on future potential - we already assume that they have the skills they need.”
But awareness of our own unconscious biases isn’t always enough. After all, they’re unconscious… So, we include a wide range of people from different teams, genders, and backgrounds in the interview process to overcome bias as a group.
5. Be patient
Be careful not to dismiss candidates at the first opportunity because you want to tick boxes. Many minority candidates don't fit into categories of elite schools or big-name companies, so if you’re only seeking candidates from this area then you’re likely limiting your access to a diverse pool of talent.
Aline Lerner, a former tech recruiter and co-founder of Interviewing.io, writes in her personal blog, “Resumes are terrible predictors of engineering ability. I’ve looked at tens of thousands of resumes, and in software engineering roles, there is often very little correspondence between how someone looks on paper and whether they can actually do the job.”
We agree. When we look at candidates’ experience, we consider:
- University degrees
- University drop-outs
- People who never went to university
- A range of previous jobs and industries
- A range of companies and company sizes
So what if someone doesn’t tick every single item on the list? We hire people with enormous potential, and offer a generous training budget to ensure employees can continually learn new skills.
Before and after: studies show that a diverse company leads to greater financial success.
SamKnows is innovative and pioneering. If it wasn’t for Sam Crawford inventing the most accurate way to measure fixed-line internet performance, none of us would be here. We want to approach creating a more inclusive tech industry with the same intensity as we do with our day job.
A key part of this is to create a company culture that makes everyone feel welcome and valued. One approach is to support the initiatives of our own employees who want to contribute to a more inclusive tech industry. So when SamKnows Android Developer, Samira, asked to us to back her Project Margaret Hamilton, we were delighted. Although we’re a group of very different people, we’re all bound together by our commitment to busting myths about working in technology, reversing subliminal messages to young girls that science, technology, engineering, and maths(STEM) subjects are not for them. And most importantly, combatting the decline in women joining the industry.
The project aims to convince teenage girls aged 12-16, who have little interest in computers, to consider a career in technology. Taught by female developers from SamKnows, Project Margaret Hamilton provides free (and fun) coding classes to students at our offices, and gives real insight into the different areas of the industry itself. All the classes are designed in such a way that other companies can pick up a Project Margaret Hamilton class pack and start teaching anywhere in the world.
If you want to find out more about SamKnows and our initiatives in support of diversity, contact us.