In the tech world, the demand for diversity is far outpacing the industry’s actual diversity metrics. Even though 76 percent of job seekers want to work for diverse companies, 62 percent of tech jobs in America are held by white people, and over 83 percent of executives in the tech industry are white.
Alexis Fleckenstein, head of people at San Francisco-based software company Clockwise, says that for all the achievements tech companies have reached, their performance when it comes to DEI has been lackluster. When organizations see diversity and inclusion as an afterthought, she says it not only drives away talent, but can also have a devastating impact on their current employees.
“It can be so deeply lonely to be the one that stands out in a totally homogenous workplace,” Fleckenstein said. “Nobody wants to feel like they can’t see anyone that looks like them on the C-suite team, that they can’t see themselves on a leadership trajectory, or that their managers can’t see where they’re coming from.”
“Diversity begets more diversity... When you’ve really made strides in diversifying your team, then your team becomes much more attractive to diverse applicants.”
The numbers are discouraging, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. Startups have a tremendous opportunity to move the needle when it comes to diversity in tech, which is something Fleckenstein has witnessed firsthand while leading the people team at Clockwise.
“Getting the strategy in place this year is really huge for us,” Fleckenstein said. “When you’re at a small, high growth company, you can really impact the diversity of your team in a way that will reverberate for years to come.”
For Fleckenstein, centering DEI is about more than just fixing the tech industry’s diversity metrics. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel seen, heard, and have a chance at success. Hiring diverse candidates is the best place to start.
“Diversity begets more diversity,” she said. “When you’ve really made strides in diversifying your team, then your team becomes much more attractive to diverse applicants.”
Do Proactive Outreach
To keep diversity central in your recruiting efforts, writing your job postings with inclusive language is important, but it’s only a starting place. Saying you encourage diverse candidates to apply to your open roles is one thing, but actually attracting a diverse candidate pool requires a lot more legwork on HR’s end.
“You’ll never find a company that says they don’t care about DEI,” said Fleckenstein. “Everybody is beating that drum, so candidates are looking for who’s actually walking the walk.”
If your goal is to build a diverse and inclusive organization, you can’t afford to wait for candidates to come to you. Be proactive and explore candidate pipelines beyond the traditional job boards. Partner with organizations, such as Women in Tech or Out in Tech, or develop relationships with historically Black colleges and universities, so that you can advertise your jobs to a broader audience, build trust with candidates, and more clearly see what you can do to support diversity and inclusion in the tech industry at large.
“Lots of companies tend to just post and pray, meaning they post a job and pray people apply,” said Julie Fink, VP of HR University of Phoenix. “To think that you’re going to get diverse candidates applying to jobs, just because you put a posting out there, is a bad misconception. It’s not just going to happen naturally or organically — you need to actually go out and find people, and convince them why they should come to work for you.”
Rely on ERG Support
Within your company, employee resource groups (ERGs) let your employees build lasting communities, empower their voices, and help them feel more at home. But along with all those benefits, they can also help you level up your recruiting.
Supporting ERGs demonstrates that your company takes tangible steps to live up to DEI values, which can give a major boost to your employer brand. Additionally, investing in ERGs helps employees feel included and safe at your company, which means they’ll be more likely to assist with internship programs and recommend others to apply for your open roles.
“There’s nothing better than a referral from an existing employee,” Fink said. “If a friend of yours tells you their company is a great and welcoming place to work, you’ll take that at more than face value.”
Give Newcomers a Shot
Of course, experience and know-how are two of the biggest boxes to check off when looking for candidates. Most companies look for hires who can hit the ground running, and may not feel they have the bandwidth to train newbies. But when leaders make the decision to only hire seasoned tech talent, they pass up on candidates with fresh perspectives and perpetuate gatekeeping within the tech industry.
For instance, if an employer makes it a strict rule to only hire developers with bachelor’s degrees, they could discourage Black candidates, who only make up seven percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees, from breaking into the tech industry.
“One of the big mistakes leaders make is missing the opportunity to give somebody their big break,” Fink said. “Giving early career professionals a shot at their next big career move is how you’re going to build teams with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.”
Training newer developers and engineers is a big investment. But when it comes to building inclusivity and equity within the tech industry, it’s an investment that more than pays off.
Interrogate Your Biases
One of the more difficult challenges of the recruiting process is eliminating implicit bias. It’s easy for even trained HR leaders to let personal biases impact their work, but if your hiring process is influenced more by your feelings about a candidate rather than their qualifications or skills, you’ll wind up making flawed or even discriminatory recruiting decisions.
“At small companies that are moving super fast, the hiring process can get kind of hand-wavy, which causes a lot of issues,” Fleckenstein said. “You need to create a rigorous and consistent candidate experience so you can trust that your hiring system is actually building equitable outcomes.”
“If you really like a certain candidate, dig into the reasons for that. Is it because they look or act similarly to you, or because you have the same alma mater?”
To avoid making ill-informed hiring choices, train each of your managers on avoiding unconscious bias during the applicant screening and interviewing process, and interrogate your own preconceptions about what makes a good candidate.
“If you really like a certain candidate, dig into the reasons for that. Is it because they look or act similarly to you, or because you have the same alma mater?” Fink said. “It’s our responsibility as HR leaders to look past their biases and to help managers ethically look at the qualifications of a candidate.”
Commitment Starts From Within
Centering DEI should be about more than just meeting legal requirements or checking items off a list. Diversity of thought and experience is what powers new solutions and ideas, and recruiting is only the first step in building a strong and diverse team.
“There’s a huge difference between compliance and commitment,” Fink said. “Compliance is all about the numbers, taking the required diversity and harassment training, et cetera. But commitment shows that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to power diversity and inclusion.”
Your employees are the central lifeline of your company, and making them feel welcome and safe not only helps them be more productive and innovative, but also supports their wellness and happiness outside of work. When you can show that you not only hire diverse employees, but support and uplift them in their day-to-day life, you’ll attract candidates who are seeking companies that live up to their values.
“The conversation about diversity and inclusion is always evolving, but recently companies have been paying much more attention to this sense of belonging,” said Fink. “You can take all these steps to recruit diverse candidates, but if your employees don’t feel like they have a home at your company, or they can’t bring their authentic self to work, they’ll go and find someplace else.”