The global spotlight on inequality in 2020 has cast the technology sector in an unfavorable light. Despite major employers’ public commitments to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), years of awareness programs and similar training has scarcely moved the needle toward a more representative workforce.
Black, Hispanic and indigenous employees collectively made up just 16.3% of the U.S. high-tech workforce in 2014, according to a report from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. A recent CNBC analysis of diversity reports from Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter found the firms had seen “low single-digit increases in their percentage of Black employees” in the six years since the firms began publishing annual diversity reports.
Hiring practices are at least partially to blame for perpetuating the toxic “pipeline problem” myth. Whether through recruiting only from a handful of elite universities, hiring that relies on status quo referrals or other processes that harbor intrinsic biases, these flawed systems are depriving organizations of many qualified individuals who are too often passed over by insufficiently trained hiring managers.
As organizations look for ways to make their DEI strategies more effective, many are rethinking how they train human resources (HR) departments and hiring managers to identify qualified applicants. In the process, firms have the opportunity to root out practices that discourage and exclude women, people of color and individuals from other underrepresented groups.
Fortunately, change is within reach. By teaching hiring and HR managers best practices at four stages in the technical hiring process, organizations can begin to reshape the system for greater equity and efficiency.
1. Formalizing Job Descriptions
Managers must learn to craft job descriptions with specific, direct language that defines the role and core competencies in measurable, inclusive terms. These descriptions should reflect a job analysis as well as attributes that the HR team has identified as desirable in the firm’s employees.
Knowingly or unknowingly, including informal terms such as “rock star” or “guru” among the core competencies warns many candidates that they will be evaluated on criteria that are impossible to measure objectively. Instead, hiring managers should stick to formal descriptors of position requirements. Typical engineering roles, for example, may involve algorithms, project discussions and code reviews.
When reviewing job descriptions, HR leaders should also look for language that could alienate potential candidates. For example, unnecessarily aggressive phrasing like “seeking a development ninja who isn’t afraid to break things” can deter some candidates from applying.
2. Sourcing Inclusively
How does your company screen, recruit and invite candidates to the hiring process? An organization cannot hope to have a diverse pipeline if it limits its outreach to the graduates of a few leading computer science programs. Likewise, referrals from industry insiders tend to recommend candidates from similar backgrounds rather than opening the door to a more diverse field.
The pandemic has fueled a surge in virtual career fairs, job boards and online events that make it easier for employers to work with more schools and recruit more inclusively. Hiring managers should look for schools with diverse populations to feed a diverse pipeline and leverage the major job listing websites.
Training for hiring managers should teach them to rely less on the pedigree of a candidate’s education and employment history and, instead, to screen applicants by the skills they demonstrate through coding challenges or other self-selecting tests.
3. Assessing Technical Assessments
Educators know that method bias in testing can disadvantage students who lack cultural context or other concepts unrelated to the skills an exam purports to measure. Similarly, the recruiting and screening of potential engineers using mock coding exercises and whiteboard tests risks disqualifying candidates who may simply suffer from performance anxiety triggered by these formats, as a study by North Carolina State University showed recently.
Training for HR personnel and the managers involved in testing candidates can help ensure that their technical assessments mimic the actual conditions of the position. To evaluate coding skills, for example, an assessment could include putting the candidate in a paired-coding scenario, where he or she works with another developer to think, collaborate and code to solve a problem.
Additionally, HR managers should learn how to identify bottlenecks or breakdowns in the hiring system by monitoring candidate drop-off rates. This process can answer key questions such as, “Are underrepresented applicants dropping out at higher rates at a particular phase in the screening process?” and, “Is one interviewer or team associated with atypically high drop-out rates?”. This training can help the HR team identify unique opportunities for improving inclusivity and the overall candidate experience.
4. Structuring On-sites and Offers
Inclusive hiring demands a fair comparison of all candidates, but objectivity can become more challenging during one-on-one interviews. Training can help managers appreciate the risk of evaluating for “culture fit,” which is ripe for misapplication and bias, and to use, instead, evaluation tools that foster impartiality in hiring decisions.
These tools include structured rubrics or scoring guides that help evaluators adhere to objective measurements during candidate evaluations, rather than relying on their “gut.” The process of filling out an evaluation chart on each candidate forces the interviewer to confront his or her own biases and support each evaluation with measurable — and auditable — conclusions. Structured evaluations also enable managers to aggregate data and improve decision-making with analysis. In the process, the organization demonstrates to candidates a shared commitment to objective hiring.
The tech sector can reshape itself to reflect the populations it serves through better recruiting and more responsible hiring. To embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, the industry must retrain its gatekeepers to recognize and remove biases at each stage of the hiring process.