by Christina Wood

Hiring for diversity: 9 ways to retool your process

Nov 23, 2018
IT LeadershipStaff Management

If you want a diverse team, you need to look different. This means changing both the way you search and the way you appear.

woman equality abstract diversity
Credit: Thinkstock

You’ve read the research. You know your team needs to be diverse to create innovative products, make good decisions, and boost your bottom line. You’ve told the hiring managers, pestered HR, and set quotas. So why does every recruit look exactly like the staff you have?

Sure, there is a supply problem for skilled IT pros; finding diverse candidates is even harder. “I believe diversity generates creativity and balance,” says Tim Enwall Head of Misty Robotics. “But every person on the planet is looking for these people. As a startup, we can’t afford these skyrocketing salaries.”

It’s called the diversity pipeline problem. The real problem with that pipeline, though, is that it’s a myth.

“I hear the excuse that women and people of color with the right skills don’t exist,” says Debbie Madden, CEO of development and product consultancy Stride Consulting. “That is factually incorrect. Women make up over 50 percent of both the U.S. population and college graduates. In fact, there are hirable women in the workplace.”

If you want a diverse team, look different. Change both the way you search and the way you appear. “If a company presents as not inclusive or unsafe, women and people of color won’t reach out to you.”

Some solutions are simple, obvious even – once they’ve been pointed out to you. Others are complicated. But all are possible.

To get you started, we asked experts for their advice for finding that unicorn you don’t believe exists – a diverse tech team. Here’s what they said.

Write better job listings

What’s your first step when filling a job? Write the job description? That document might be the beginning of your problem. “Unconscious bias often filters through to job descriptions,” explains Barbara Adams, Founder and Chief Learning Officer at Gender, Age, and Race Diversity Consulting and the author of Women, Minorities and Other Extraordinary People: The New Path for Workforce Diversity. “A study done by the American Psychological Association found that words associated with masculine and feminine stereotypes perpetuate gender inequality in job ads.”

Take a look at your phrasing. Is it sending a message you don’t intend? “Masculine wording like ‘competitive,’ ‘dominant,’ or ‘aggressive’ make job descriptions less appealing to women,” says Adams. “Feminine wording like ‘responsible’, ‘dedicated’ or ‘conscientious’ has the opposite effect.”

Tech companies frequently make this mistake. A study from Ziprecruiter found that 92 percent of tech companies use gendered wording in job listing. And making a fairly simple edit here can have huge results. When gender neutral terms were used in job descriptions, the study found, applications increased by 42 percent.  

You can dig into the original study to help identify the gendered terms you might be using. Or there are companies, such as, that specialize in rewriting job descriptions to make them gender neutral.

Look in the mirror

Before you spend a fortune hiring consultants or upping your hiring bonuses, make sure the problem isn’t staring back at you when you look in the mirror. Statistically speaking, if you are running an IT team, chances are you’re a white male. The problem may not be in the pipeline but in your mind.

“Often our biases run counter to what we think of ourselves,” explains Adams. “They come up, though, in the hiring and recruitment process because, as humans, we naturally migrate towards people who are like us.”

Look in the mirror. Look at your web site. Look at your management team. Look at your staff. Does everyone look like you? You probably have an unconscious bias problem. This is complex and human. You can’t expect yourself and your team to snap a finger and erase it. But there is training available. It helps.

“We did workshops on unconscious bias,” explains Emily King, Human Resources Director for ScienceLogic. “We dug into some brain science and talked about where our own gaps in awareness were. The goal was, simply – before we did anything else – to broaden our awareness.”

For many of King’s hiring managers, this became an ongoing process. It involved deep soul searching, an examination of what ‘company culture’ means, and many one-on-one conversations. It was like therapy.

“We are uncomfortable with people who are not like us,” says Adams. “That feeling of discomfort often translates into ‘not a fit.’ Discomfort, though, can be a sign that you should be considering this person more. Once people understand that, they are much better able to overcome it.”

Especially when it comes to interviews, says Daphne Wotherspoon, managing director at Hire Strategy and a board member of Women in Technology (WIT). “You need to take a hard look at your unconscious bias.”

The people running the interviews may not intend to undermine your diversity goal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t.  

After King led ScienceLogic’s hiring managers through training on unconscious bias, one came to her, horrified. “The thing you told me not to do,” he lamented. “That is exactly what I do.”

“He had the best intentions,” says King. “But his process was filtering out people who were not like him.”

In the interviews, he asked what people like to do for fun. He often shared that he liked to hike. “Some people would say, ‘Me too!’” says King. “He loved those people.”

But there were strong candidates who didn’t want to talk about what they did on weekends or who did things he didn’t like as much. “He was shutting them down,” says King. Not for any reason that pertained their ability to do the job.

“You want to know if this person has the right talent and skills. What they do for fun isn’t relevant.”

This person hired a lot of people and was very upset to think that he may have been part of the company’s diversity problem.

King is sanguine. “This is why we do this training,” she says. “This was the tweak we needed to make him a fantastic hiring manager.”

Do you have a pay disparity?

“Diversity hiring starts with equal pay,” says Madden. “Why would a woman join your team if she knows she will be underpaid?”

You don’t think you have this problem. But are you sure? According to a recent survey by Hired, men are offered higher salaries than women for the same job at the same company 63 percent of the time. And according to the U.S. census, a woman earns 70 cents for every dollar a man earns. The same survey found that more than half of women know they’ve been paid less than men in similar roles throughout their careers. The women suing Google certainly know they aren’t being paid the same as their male coworkers, even if Google denies it.

“I give Mark Benioff at Salesforce a lot of credit for how he handled this,” says Adams. He didn’t believe his company had a pay gap but when he was shown the numbers, proving the company did have a clear pay disparity between men and women, across the board in every department and in every geography, he corrected it. “Then he came out and said,” according to Adams. “I am a tech guy and I fixed this. All of us need to fix this.”

This is the sort of change that likely brings in resumes – or at least stops the mass exodus of women from your ranks.

“Two years ago,” a Salesforce spokesperson explained. “We made a commitment to ensure equal pay for equal work. Since then, we’ve conducted three global equal pay assessments, which resulted in the company spending $8.7 million to address unexplained differences in pay between men and women, as well as race and ethnicity in the U.S. Today, women make up 30.9 percent of our global workforce, up from 30.1 percent last year.

Get out more

If the people you are looking for aren’t coming to you, go to them. There are a myriad of job fairs and conferences in the world. If you are looking to hire women, go to a woman’s job conference. Minorities? Same. In addition to finding the pipeline you didn’t think existed, you might learn something.

“I go to the Black Enterprise Tech Connext conference every year,” says Adams. “It reminds me what it’s like to feel different. It’s a wonderful opportunity anyone can take to remind yourself of how others experience life and society.”

Many companies find female staff at the Women in Technology job fairs. “This becomes a virtuous cycle,” says WIT President Margo Dunn. “Companies come to the job fairs looking for qualified candidates. And when they see the WIT community, they become sponsors because it offers even more opportunities.”

“We have attended two WIT job fairs,” says King. “They were very rewarding.” ScienceLogic treated it like a trade show and handed out company swag. A lot of the people attending were there to get information about companies they might consider working for. “We hired a woman from the first conference and she is working out well,” says King. “We also networked with other companies at the show and, since, have been gaining more and more traction.”

Write and speak

If you are trying to attract a diverse team, say so. Write about it on your blog. Speak about it at conferences. Share your thoughts in social media. “When a person seeks a new job,” says Madden, “they are seeking a team where they will feel included and safe. What better way to show the world that you offer a diverse and inclusive environment than to speak and write about the topic?”

Make sure you mean it, though. “If your team is racist or sexist, you’re better off spending your time and energy fixing the problems within than touting falsehoods,” says Madden.

That sort of false advertising will likely inspire people who have experienced workplace harassment or sexism in your company to also speak up. It was one woman with a blog and a harrowing story of sexual harassment in the workplace that started the wheels in motion to bring down Uber’s CEO.

A well-trained military

“Around 200,000 people leave the military every year,” says Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Chris Cortez, vice president of Microsoft Military Affairs. “[At the same time, thousands of jobs in IT go unfilled. We thought if we could prepare the veterans who are interested in IT, we could offer them opportunities.”

Five years ago, the company started the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy, an 18-month program that teaches fundamental IT skills to veterans. “This group is inherently diverse,” says Cortez, of the program’s graduates. “They come from all over the country and from all kinds of backgrounds. This is diversity in a very real form.”

They bring with them not just their training from Microsoft but also military training. “When you come out of the military,” says Cortez, “you bring experience and maturity. You know what it’s like to work with a diverse team.” And that brings diversity of mindset.

Microsoft and 360 other tech companies hire from this program. “We have many fantastic employees that have come out of this program,” says Cortez. Some of their stories are quite moving. Ryen Macababbad, for example, joined the military when she was twenty-two. After a traumatic experience in Afghanistan, she decided her military career was over. Not sure what to do next, she went through the MSSA program. Today, she is program manager for Azure Active Directory at Microsoft and was honored by Michelle Obama at the White House for her passion for technology.

The MSSA program is expanding to fourteen locations and is poised to graduate 1,000 people a year.

Have you tried peer-to-peer?

The idea behind peer-to-peer hiring is that you look for talent in non-traditional ways. Instead of letting the hiring manager or human resources do the screening, interviewing, and hiring, get someone who is already doing the job to handle it.

“For example, a company is going to Cal Tech to recruit potential female hires for engineering,” says Adams. “Someone from human resources, would attend with a Cal Tech grad currently working at the firm plus an engineer currently doing the job you are hiring for.” If you are hoping to hire women, someone here should be female. “This way, the potential new talent can understand the job, work environment, and the possible differences between the company’s espoused values and the actual values at play.”

Another way to go about this is to hire through your current employee resource groups. So, if you want to find people of color to work in the IT department, ask people of color who already work in the IT department to attend events to network and identify potential new hires.

“Peer-to-peer hiring has the ability to focus on competence over consensus, since the peer often knows the job better than HR or the hiring manager,” says Adams.

An innovative internship program

An industry of code-school boot camps has spawned to meet the bottomless demand for technical staff.  Some of these even specialize in helping women transition from other industries into tech. The catch with most of them, is price.

That’s why Heather Terenzio, Co-Founder and CEO of Boulder-based Techtonic Group, built a paid engineering apprenticeship program. “We look for diamonds in the rough,” she says. “People who are baristas or who might have an English degree.” Techtonic partners them with a master engineer and hires them out as a team to work on the hiring company’s projects. Eventually, the master leaves and the apprentice – hopefully – stays.

This was exactly the solution Tim Enwall at Misty Roboticswas looking for to solve his ‘skyrocketing salaries’ and diversity problem.  “When I realized Heather was talking about a paired apprentice program, I knew this was a great idea.” If you are plumber or an electrician, you work with a master on real world problems.

“Initially we hired a master and two apprentices to work on our mobile app and software ATIs,” he says. This brought two women onto his team, one with an MBA and one who had worked in retail.

“You get pretty educated shadowing the master,” he says. They are both fantastic employees. More than that, though, their presence inspired Enwall’s existing team. “These jobs were life altering for these women,” he says. “That made my people want to teach them. It feels great to know you are changing someone’s life with skills you took for granted.”

It worked so well, Enwall plans to keep hiring from the Techtonic Group. And Terenzio is expanding the program to more cities next year.