A very common question I get in my inbox is, “I love your posts! How can I get more women to work at my company??”. It’s not a bad question but I’m just a developer and have never worked in recruiting or D+I so it’s not necessarily my area of expertise. That being said, with the acknowledgement that I have a large San Francisco/Bay Area bias since I’ve spent my entire career here, I have a few thoughts on how to attract and retain tech talent from underrepresented groups.
A quick linguistic point
Specific people aren’t “diverse”, but you can try boost a team’s “diversity”. Read more about this here.
A mistake I see a lot of companies making while trying to recruit talent is limiting their own pool of applicant by the strictness of the job posting. I’ve seen orgs attempt to only hire CS graduates who also graduated from the Ivy League + MIT + Stanford. The number of developers who would be available in your market from that pool is minuscule. I would strongly recommend removing any criteria like this and opening it up to more nontraditional or less “prestigious” backgrounds (and thus a wider but still very qualified candidate pool).
We can investigate the job posting further for footguns. Beyond the strict criteria for the developer background (college degree, GPA, past companies, num years exp), I also see mistakes when companies list too many skill requirements” vs “nice to haves” for the specific job. Do you really need a junior developer to be an expert in your specific framework? Or could they learn it on the job?
Lastly, job postings can contain language off-putting to certain groups. The obvious ones we all know and make fun of would be “rockstar” or “ninja” etc, but the not so obvious but still off-putting could be “competitive”, “opinionated”, “superior”, etc. See more examples of subtle masculine gendered language here and work to remove these from your job postings either manually or through the many paid/free automated tools.
The second mistake I see a lot of companies make is only focusing on hiring senior developers. It’s currently much easier to find underrepresented talent when looking to fill internship or junior roles because of the current balance of talent pools (remember to consider women’s colleges and HBCUs if you’re complaining about the “pipeline”!), and investing in training them up while also building a healthy culture of mentorship helps everyone.
Many tech companies rely on referrals for sourcing quality talent quickly, but a fair criticism is that relying entirely on referrals will reflect your current workforce in your new hires. For example, if your current workforce is very white and male, that’s likely what you should expect most referrals to be as well. There are some steps to combat this, such as incentivizing referrals from underrepresented groups. Outside of referrals there are several job boards that focus on recruiting specifically women in tech and other underrepresented groups. Another popular way to get in touch with a larger pool of talent is connecting with local meetups for your desired tech stack.
We all know that the tech interview process can be considered an official dumpster fire. I will just touch on issues here that could impact hiring people from underrepresented groups.
First, lengthy take homes that require 4-8 hours of work with strict deadlines before talking to anyone on the team. You are selecting for people who have this amount of free time day to day. I think take homes can work in the right situation, but maybe with a wider deadline window and as a last step in the process as to not waste as many people’s time.
Secondly, focusing heavily on DS/Algorithm interviews that are not extremely relevant to the job. Most developers do NOT need to write data structures from scratch and will need to intensely study these concepts before interviewing, so let’s stop only hiring those who have weeks to study before interviewing for a new job. Relatedly, whiteboarding, which is usually an intense drill into those programming concepts while writing on a literal whiteboard. Currently, I’ve been interested in more “related to the job” interviewing practices. Imagine that! Being interviewed on concepts you need to know and with tools you actually use every day.
Lastly, we all know bias can seep into every step of the interview process. Most companies offer some sort of bias training before your team interviews, please take them up on it or find some resources online to learn more.
Opportunity for growth is something I evaluate very strongly before joining a new role. Do developers have some freedom to investigate things they’re interested in? Can I speak at conferences and meetups? Is there any time investment in open source? Is there a yearly budget for attending conferences or buying learning materials? Is there clear documentation for developer Job Architecture so I can see what is expected of me to get a promotion to the next level? Is the work high impact? Are people recognized for their work? Is mentorship available and valued?
This is more than just the dollar amount on a paycheck. The market is hot for engineers (especially from underrepresented groups) and you’ll want to try to be competitive and not low-ball talent. Beyond the initial offer, developers like to see stock refreshers and/or cash bonuses as part of their performance package every year. There are some very attractive companies doing things like yearly market rate adjustments outside of any performance evaluations (and beyond just an 2% inflation raise). Another sign of good faith for underrepresented groups is some degree of pay transparency or at least conducting pay equity audits to ensure they aren’t being screwed over compared to their white, male peers.
The stereotypical “Silicon Valley” culture has free lunch and ping pong tables, but the culture has been maturing to offer benefits that people out their early 20s will also value and enjoy. For example, offering flexible working arrangements is a very attractive benefit for almost all groups. For post-COVID everyone in the Bay Area is already discussing “hybrid” office setups or even allowing all employees to choose to go fully remote permanently. Most engineers I know are already discussing continuing to want to work from home 2-3 days a week permanently. Additionally, offering fully remote roles gets you access to a much larger talent pool, and as a bonus you won’t be competing with as many local companies. Other benefits that are popular and make people from all groups come to you are generous vacation policies and paid maternity AND paternity leave (coming soon my rant about why paternity leave is so crucial to even the playing field).
Do it early
Yes, there ARE fewer women and BIPOC in tech by the numbers. It is definitely an effort to try to recruit and retain these people and maybe your company just isn’t at the stage where they can invest in that. I would just warn any earlier stage company reading this that the first org you build will set the tone for years to come. There’s nothing scarier when job-hunting than being the “first” and the longer this goes on, the harder it is to fix later.
Lastly, I want to shout from the rooftops that just hiring a white woman on your team is NOT diversity. Again, recruiting and D+I is not my main job or area of expertise, but we all need to work harder in our own teams and orgs to push for improvements in this area.