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Ensuring the cultivation of inclusive teams should be a priority for organizations globally.
But investing resources in creating a structured hiring process can sometimes fall to the bottom of the to-do list.
As part of our series on designing efficient, equitable hiring processes, LeadDev brought together a group of senior engineering leaders from large enterprise companies in Europe and the United States to discuss how their organizations can commit to implementing inclusive hiring practices on a global scale; reflecting on their personal experiences of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The session started with a presentation by Shannon Hogue-Brown, Global Head of Solutions Engineering at Karat, who shared her own experience of biased interviews, the challenges hiring presents for organizations, and the following five key practices she uses for achieving an efficient, equitable hiring process.
- Hire on competencies
- Avoid ambiguity
- Use a structured scoring rubric
- Train and review the interviewers
- Beware of pedigree bias
Shannon explained how ‘many organizations are just flat-out bad at interviewing, and without consistent, high-quality interviews, it’s impossible for leaders to identify sources of bias in their process – which is more important than ever as businesses are continuing to make commitments around building more inclusive teams.’ This statement struck a chord with our attendees, leading them to think of their own hiring processes and segueing them into the personal reflection part of the discussion.
A vulnerable conversation
Our attendees were asked to write down the answers to the following instructions:
- Name five friends you might do something socially with over the weekend;
- Name five colleagues you might invite to join you for lunch;
- Name five colleagues you’d recommend for a position in your organization or in another.
They were then asked to look back over their list of names. By examining their immediate spheres (personally and professionally), our engineering leaders were able to reflect on the disparity between the biases in their own connections and their own efforts in D&I. When the leaders were encouraged to share their answers, one mentioned how he saw a pattern of bias in that he had only included the names of people he had recently or most frequently interacted with. The risk of this being that if your circles aren’t diverse, then underrepresented groups may miss out on opportunities as you unconsciously push forward the folks that are closest to you.
Attendees were then split up into breakout rooms to dive deeper into their personal reflection, and were given prompting questions to help guide the conversation. Two people shared similar experiences of moving from multicultural cities to much smaller, homogenous areas in the UK with a heavily-White population. One said how he felt he had taken several steps back regarding the people he interacts with, and raised the challenges of rebuilding an inclusive network when it had been reset. The other opened up about her embarrassment of having a lot more diversity in her professional circles than in her personal ones. A different attendee then shared that she had the same concern, but that this made her more aware to respect the diversity in her org and listen to the different perspectives of underrepresented groups to hear their challenges and act with empathy. She stated that her organization created a transparency dashboard for internal use to evaluate their DEI numbers and observe how they changed over time, which had directly impacted the way they hired.
Tokenism in hiring
Most of our attendees had experienced being the only person from an underrepresented group at least once in their career, including during hiring, which led them to be perceived unfairly as a ‘token’ – both by their peers and themselves. Attendees took the opportunity of our safe discussion space to share their struggles with this.
One leader mentioned how her female manager was promoted to a senior director position, and that she followed closely behind with a promotion to director level. However, this cause for celebration was tainted when, after both announcements were made to the wider teams, they were immediately followed with updates on how the promotions improved the company’s DEI figures. Our attendee shared the disappointment that conflicted with her happiness around the company talking transparently about DEI, but overall the announcements made her feel that she only got the promotion because she was female – despite knowing that she was the best candidate for the role.
This coincided with another female attendee sharing how she was known as ‘the woman in tech’ and would regularly be invited to sit on hiring panels so female candidates could ‘see themselves’ when attending interviews. She raised the question, ‘How do you talk to individual contributors and other managers about hiring so they don’t see candidates as a token?’ and ‘How can you let people be comfortable with the identity they want you to address without the underlying ripple of tokenism? How can we allow people to opt-in or out of having their identity discussed?’
In response, an attendee started to discuss how he took over the responsibility of ‘tokenizing’ himself, and carrying this through to the wider organization. His org highlighted that folks didn’t have to carry their identity through the hiring process or in their role unless they wanted to, but that either way they would be supported. He reiterated that it is not the job of anyone to carry their identity with them, and that organizations should respect this. The notion of ‘reclaiming your own tokenism’ and changing the narrative was supported by another attendee, who said ‘If someone highlights me because of my color then I’ll take it as a positive. If we fall into the tokenism trap then we’ll never move forward. Sometimes you have to take those things and make them yours.’
Investing in the pipeline
But how are engineering leaders making positive steps towards equitable hiring on a company-wide scale?
One attendee discussed that when people are looking through their own networks for potential candidates, but cannot see the diversity they’re looking for, it can feel like the pipeline is impossible. The work needs to be done early to expand the pool. This attendee went on to explain how in his new role as VP Engineering, he made the commitment for his org to step outside of their regular networks and not only aim to recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), but to run projects there to encourage Black students to step into a career in tech.
Regarding student programs, another attendee told of how his organization had success with a system aimed at solving the problem of finding diverse individuals leaving university. His org created a bursary for students who would have no way of entering the industry otherwise, providing internships with a view of them returning to the company for full-time employment. The results were that the students either returned to them after leaving higher education, or referred their friends to apply for positions in the company. There was no guaranteed hire, and the system was done on a needs-rather-than-skills basis. It is these steps that create change, and organizations should be prepared to make them when it comes to dedicating efforts to DEI hiring.
As the event came to a close, Shannon Hogue-Brown gave a poignant takeaway for the engineering leaders in attendance: ‘I often hear things in the industry like we have to lower the bar to get more diverse candidates, or we have to slow down, or we don’t have the pipeline – but I would argue that with more knowledge around the bias that we inject in the interview and the interview questions themselves, these problems will start to go away. And we arm ourselves to be ready to enable a true cultural shift in our teams’.
The vulnerability that is shown in these conversations is the starting point for the much-needed change surrounding DEI in tech. Sharing the trials and errors of inclusive hiring processes enables engineering leaders to work together on a global scale and ensure that best practices are discovered and implemented.
Our roundtable discussion ended with attendees being encouraged to share what they wanted to learn more about, or what they could offer to others. These included:
- ‘If you want to talk to somebody, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Before you think you’re going to make a mistake, this is a safe space. And my request is that I’m still on my journey learning about LGBTQ+ issues, so if you have any resources or are open to talk about it, that’s super helpful for me.’
- ‘Just work on being that change you want to see, and if you can be the change that you want to see, hopefully you’ll model behavior that others will want to follow.’
- ‘If you’re willing to have some jam sessions on how we can meaningfully move forward, and trade ideas in a safe space, I would love to continue this conversation with anybody on this call. I think there is a lot of good that can come from putting our heads together and being the change you want to see more broadly.’
- ‘We’re a group of leaders that have the ability to impact the industry in general, and many people within it. So while you’re hiring, if you find someone who’s just not the right fit for your team, please introduce them to other people who can hire in another company. You can hand them off to someone else who has an opportunity for them, and try to help them along the road, because it’s not always easy to make those connections.’
Our attendees left inspired to continue the conversation surrounding the implementation of, and dedication to, equitable hiring processes, and the significance they have in our organizations.