Tech Needs to Get Serious About the Diversity of Its Software Engineering Teams
Last month I wrote a column on empathy. I thought it was a nice, inspiring piece that would resonate with folks who were starting to see light at the end of a very long tunnel.
Then ... wow.
Should I have saved the empathy post for now? If last month we needed to dial it up to 11, what level do we need today?
As a white woman in tech, I can empathize with people who experience unfairness and bias. I’m all too familiar with what it means to have one’s credentials and abilities questioned. As a native Chicagoan, I have seen the devastating impact of inequality. But I can’t truly understand what it means to be threatened by the very systems that are supposed to protect us.
Empathy Is No Longer Enough When Confronting Systemic Problems
We can all look at the systems we use and contribute to — especially as we build new technologies that will shape the world for generations to come.
At Karat, that means putting the hiring and interviewing system under a microscope. It’s always been our mission to make interviews more predictive, fair, and enjoyable, so it would be easy to pat myself on the back and say that I’m part of the solution.
But interviews are only as fair as the people who get invited to them. Too often the status quo is to filter out, not to welcome in.
Our industry is plagued with problems of interview capacity and consistency that create what we at Karat call the Interview Gap. Many qualified candidates never get the chance to interview for jobs at which they could excel. Only 5 percent of direct applicants for software engineering roles are invited to take a technical interview; as a result, there are not nearly enough job interview opportunities for underrepresented minorities.
And interviews are only as fair as the opportunity to prepare for them allows. Based on feedback we’ve received from several HBCUs, roughly 60 percent of their computer science students have no direct exposure to technical interviews prior to entering the job market, which affects their ability to land transformative, high-paying jobs in technology.
How do we find the great engineers who didn’t grow up with an uncle who worked at Google, or who didn’t have a high school internship at Microsoft, or didn’t go to one of the top engineering schools? And how do we make sure they’re able to put their best foot forward when it’s time to shine in an interview?
Technical interviews — even the ones we do at Karat — evaluate what software engineers already know how to do, but they don’t predict what they may be capable of doing. They reveal where people are today, but not how fast their skills are evolving — traits that matter especially at entry levels or for candidates who did not have access to as many educational resources earlier in their lives.
It’s time to take a close look at what we consider to be hiring signals: technical proficiency, behavioral attributes, work history, college degrees, etc.
What hiring signals are we overlooking? What are the attributes of the great coders who get filtered out in resume screens? How do take-home code tests filter out great candidates from underrepresented backgrounds who just need a chance to prove themselves? How can we create more hiring and interviewing opportunities without sacrificing our hiring bar?
These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’d love to hear from the Built In community on Twitter (you can find me @shogue).
As a white woman in tech, I will empathize. I will march, stand, and kneel in solidarity. I will use my voice and my platform to ask the needed questions. And most of all, I will listen.
But understanding is going to take a lot more voices. Please share yours.