Recruiting More Underrepresented Candidates Won’t Magically Make Your Organisation Inclusive
This is Part 3 in a five part series on building diverse software engineering teams. Read Part 2, Anonymous Coding Tests Don’t Remove Bias, here.
What good is hiring talent from many different backgrounds if your company is set up to favor those already in the dominant culture?
Teams focus on diversity during recruitment, but can often overlook the harder work of inclusion. While the two often are bundled together — or make a trio with equity in diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI — focusing just on diversity doesn’t make inclusion magically happen. But inclusion has been shown to be equally or more important for longer-term success of diverse teams and retaining talent from diverse backgrounds. Without inclusion, the effort you put into hiring a diverse team falls flat, and those same people you worked so hard to get into your organization are going to leave.
It doesn’t matter if you hire black or Latino or LGBTQ+ people, if you then expect them to show up showing a “culture fit” and don’t support them to thrive in their difference.
— An underrepresented minority executive
Diversity work, especially in recruiting, often comes with levers to pull that give you more immediate results and shorter feedback loops: advertise a job on a certain platform, look for certain communities on LinkedIn for reachout efforts, sponsor a meetup. Though it can still be a heavy lift to get the representation you’re aiming for, these are all more or less easy wins where putting money and effort toward the problem can often turn metrics around.
Inclusion work is a slow burn. It focuses on long term. The feedback loops might take months or even years. Sometimes the work includes changes that challenge (or even piss off) your leadership teams. And there’s usually not a colorful dashboard that can show iterative change week over week.
I moved to a different department to avoid being under a shitty male CTO and my career as a programmer was over. Yes, I could have worked to get back into it, but I was super bitter about how hard I would have to work. I had only changed to avoid this shitty CTO.
— A woman speaking about her first job as a software developer
On a company level, there are some staffing and policy choices that will move your company toward being more inclusive. But these decisions aren’t just left to exec team meetings. Inclusive practices are carried out in day-to-day situations like project meetings, salary reviews, and 1–1s between a manager and their team.
Representative leadership. Does your exec team look like your employees? What about the group of people with management responsibility? Having an all-white or all-male exec team “who really cares about diversity and inclusion” just doesn’t cut it anymore. And “diversity of thought” isn’t a thing.
I have a million examples. A while male exec asking me and another Black woman to run a project because he was too busy to do it. And then every time we point out problems with suggested solutions, not like we were just bitching… we’re trying to fix things. But every single time he would default to another white man and disregard our input.
— A Black woman speaking about a previous role
Career ladders and progression paths. Ladders and progression paths transparently call out which qualities and results are required for different levels of influence and responsibility. It codifies how people get power, and also signals that advancement in the organization is not up to gut feeling of your manager. It’s measured, quantifiable, and objective. Also, flat hierarchies don’t exist. There is always a hierarchy, and whether your organization chooses to transparently call it out is an important management choice.
Inclusive language in policies. Do you have a maternity leave policy, but no time off for partners? What about adoptive parents or foster parents? Double check that the language in your policies applies to all types of families. The same thing can be said for bereavement.
Processes that don’t default to favoring the loudest voice in the room. Have you noticed that many decisions are made by the same people, regardless of other appointed decisionmakers in the room? Think about ways to equalize the decision-making process so that everyone gets an equal voice, not just those who are most comfortable taking up space in a group setting, or feel that they have the right to be heard.
There’s a critical difference between hiring somebody who is different from the straight white male standard and actively, intentionally providing those people an environment in which they are psychologically safe and actively supported to thrive.
— a woman speaking about her experience as an executive
Transparent salary calculations. This doesn’t have to look like each individual’s salary being published. But it’s reasonable to have transparent salary bands for role and seniority, so that a partner success manager knows that other folks with her role and seniority fall within a certain pay range. Aside from publishing this, your organization needs to ensure that it’s enforced fairly across the team, and control for outliers.
Valuing non-traditional career journeys. An easy way to keep hiring people that all look the same is to exclude people from joining your organziation that don’t have the same education or professional history as folks who have already been hired. The coding bootcamp grad who spent years in banking and has an MBA is just as likely — and I’d argue even more likely — to be successful as a software developer as the recent Carnegie Mellon grad. Career changers, folks reentering the workforce after a career break, and other non-traditional career journeys are the mark of motivated and capable individuals, and can often overlap with underrepresented communities.
Skipping over inclusivity can lead to higher attrition, especially from the underrepresented communities that your organziation worked so hard to hire. As the hiring market continues to become more competitive, prospective employees will ask questions about inclusivity during the interview process. And your interview process itself is a signal about your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Up next in this series:
Using the wrong reachout methods and messaging for the communities they want to see represented. How can you authentically let a candidate know that DEI is important to your team and company without it coming across as the only reason you’re approaching them?
If this sounds like your experience, but you’re not sure where to start, get in touch. I can help get you started.