How to diversify your tech team
Our Enterprise Client Director Elspeth Coates talks about how to make several pillars of the hiring process more inclusive
I look after Enterprise Partnerships at Makers Academy. For those of you who don’t know anything about Makers Academy, we are a tech education company and we exist to transform lives.
We do that by training career changers to become software engineers, and the part that I play in the business is working with companies to help hire the engineers that we train.
So we see a lot of companies trying to hire technical talent, and trying to do that in an inclusive way.
Something that I want to point out from personal perspective and on behalf of all those companies, is that I don’t think anyone is setting out to make a mistake in this space. We’re not trying to make mistakes, and we’re not doing anything out of a bad intent.
We’re here today to talk about how to create a more inclusive hiring process.
The point I really want to make and I’d like for you all to take away is that instead of trying to maximise diversity, we should actually be trying to minimise exclusion.
I want to talk about three particular pillars of the hiring process. Firstly, employer brand. Secondly, job descriptions and the campaigns that you’re doing. And finally, the team and the office vibe.
So, employer brand.
When we think about branding from a B2C and a customer perspective, we often have a very clear idea in our minds about the demographics or the age groups or the particular sectors of society that we’re trying to target.
This works well when you’re trying to sell a product. But if you’re trying to open your doors to encourage as many applicants as possible to apply to the role that you’re advertising, you need to minimise exclusivity in how you’re advertising the role.
You want your employer brand to to be genuinely reflective either of the atmosphere that you’ve created or the atmosphere that you’re striving to create. There may be particular aspects of your employer brand which are somewhat exclusive to particular audiences.
It might be that you have an annual company holiday of seven days, which is a really exciting part of your culture and something that you try and sell when you’re encouraging candidates to apply for your role. But if someone’s a parent or a full time carer, how does that make them feel? They may feel excluded before they’ve even found out more about what that actually looks like.
Or you might have a culture that’s built around a drinking culture or the pub. For people who don’t engage with these activities or aren’t interested in it — how does that make them feel from the get go?
I’d also encourage you to think about the assumptions you’ve made about your employer brand, and how that makes people or particular groups feel.
Have you actually validated these assumptions and have you requested feedback from particular minority groups on your employer brand?
Have you spent some time focusing on changing that, rather than sitting in a room and making internal assumptions without going out to a wider audience?
In June last year, I had an employer come to me. They were a small consultancy, and were looking to take on some new engineers. At the end of our course, we have a hiring event where companies will come and they pitch their roles. From there, they start to select some of the software engineers we train.
We were discussing their selection process and they said, “So, stage one, we’ll do an evening in the pub so they get to know us, get to know our brand, and we get to know them a little bit better and see who’s a good fit.”
Now, they’re not doing that to exclude anyone, but in doing so, there might be people who don’t feel comfortable in a pub environment.
You also think about the different success criteria of each stage of your selection process: how do you fail someone for not performing well at the pub? I think that’s a pretty subjective thing.
I wanted to tell a story about Funmi, who’s one of our alumni. She’s now an iOS developer at Starling Bank, who are one of our hiring partners. (Update July 2019: Funmi now works at Yoyo Wallet.)
She had done an economics degree at university, worked in finance for a few years then became aware of software development, and started to really enjoy writing code.
She went along to a hackathon organised by Starling Bank, and she paired with some of the developers there, got an awareness of their working culture, how they write code, how they use technology for their business. They ended up sponsoring her through Makers Academy and at the end of the course, offered her a job as an iOS developer.
This is something to consider, in terms of getting your word out there, starting to engage with new audiences, starting to think about how you can attract different people through your doors, and being as open as possible so that they know your employer brand is one that doesn’t exclude — quite the opposite.
Next, I want to talk about job descriptions.
We see an awful lot of job descriptions and we see an awful lot of JDs that instead of describing the job, describe the person. That’s an important question to ask yourself when you’re creating and crafting your JDs, because I’ve certainly been guilty of it when I was speaking to our recruiter about growing our team and the type of person that I wanted to hire.
It’s crucial to think about the job that they will be doing.
Another thing I would advise is reflecting on the channels that you’re using to recruit new talent.
A recent Stack Overflow report showed that about 90% of traffic to their website was from men. So if you’re putting your job descriptions on Stack Overflow, and hoping to get a diverse range of applicants, there’s only a small portion of traffic that might actually reflect the audiences that you’re looking to engage with.
Are you constantly trying new channels, and reflecting on these, analysing the audiences that you’re reaching, and considering the different avenues that you could expore?
There are a few key questions to ask yourself when crafting job descriptions:
Whether you’re thinking about activities or outcomes
Whether you’re talking out what you want or what the candidate might want
Whether you’re talking about satisfying criteria or selling a dream
Another thing I’d be wary of, and we see it in a lot of job descriptions, is a university degree requirement. Particularly for software engineering roles, a computer science degree requirement means that you’re instantly filtering out a more diverse range of candidates.
Be wary of bullet pointed lists. Women will typically only apply to jobs if they meet 100% of the outlined criteria. Whereas for men, that’s a little lower more like 60–80%.
The final pillar I wanted to discuss is team and vibe.
When a candidate comes into the office, are your efforts to minimise exclusion reflected with the hiring managers, with the leadership team, and even with the team more generally in terms of the vibe that a candidate will pick up from the office.
Is the culture open and accepting? Are people willing to make adaptations based on biases that they have: conscience or otherwise?
Something that I hear a lot from our hiring partners is, “Whenever someone meets our leadership team, there’s not as diverse as we would like them to be.” Sometimes our Makers and the engineers we train feel really uncomfortable calling out an organisation on that.
I encourage our hiring partners to actively call out what they’re doing to change it, and talk about the initiatives that you have in place. Even if someone doesn’t ask, that’s not a sign that they’re not worried, or not interested in what you’re doing in this space.
We did some work with the one of our hiring partners, the Ministry of Justice a few years back. They had real trouble getting a more diverse audience to apply for their software engineering roles. So we did a workshop on unconscious bias with CN Lester, who’s a trans activist that we work with around transgender issues in tech. A lot came out of that, but it’s things like, “Have you thought about gender neutral toilets for when someone comes to interview?”
When we at Makers Academy interview people for any job, at the start of the interview we always ask what gender pronoun someone wants to be referred to as. Even if it’s something that someone hasn’t encountered before, it calls out the diversity efforts that you’re making and the awareness that you have of trying to minimise exclusion in that field. It also often leads to some really interesting conversations in interview.