Don’t be obnoxious: Hire tech talent in underrepresented groups

July 13, 20184 minute read

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Does your tech talent recruiting process need an overhaul? Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, a STEM-focused school in Claremont, CA, says there’s a good chance it does. In a recent interview with Wired, she said women in tech have a hard time being taken seriously by men in the industry—and to top it off, the current hiring process is obnoxious:

“It would be quite common for a tech company to start an interview without even saying good morning or good afternoon, just: ‘I want to know what you know about pointers in C++, so show me how to do that.’ Very adversarial, bragging, trying to show how much smarter they are. There are some women who feel perfectly comfortable in those environments, but I would say for the most part they don’t.”

Sound familiar? If it does, it’s probably time to rethink how you hire your tech talent.

Unearth the top tech talent

Companies that can’t persuade more women and people of color to major in computer science will not be able to fill the positions they need. Focusing on diversity in hiring will help you tackle the skills gap many companies are encountering today. To get a broader pool of qualified candidates knocking on your door, start casting a wider net by working with professional associations, networking groups, or alumni associations catering to the group you want to reach. You can also attend job fairs at colleges with underrepresented populations.

Many organizations are embracing blind recruitment—removing personal information from resumes that indicate name, gender, or age—as a way to overcome unconscious bias that may limit the talent pool. Research shows candidates with “ethnic” names are significantly less likely to get called back than those with English-sounding names, so blind recruitment is a great way to get past that unconscious bias.

You also may have unintentional bias in your job descriptions. Instead of focusing solely on technical requirements, add skills such as communication, creativity, and an ability to work well with others. Women in tech tend to have more confidence about these traits, and seeing them in a job description tells them your workplace values what they have to offer, Klawe said. It also helps to always be recruiting, so you’re not tempted to hire the first qualified candidate to quickly fill vacancies—especially for specialty roles, such as IT candidates with endpoint security knowledge. Instead, consistently build relationships with potential candidates, noting underrepresented groups in your database.

Then, give them a chance

Once you’ve got candidates in the door, you need to interview them in a way that’s inclusive. Sticking to a list of standardized questions can eliminate a lot of the subjectivity that creeps in during an interview. While it seems simplistic and might even interrupt the flow of conversation, posing the same set of questions in the same order provides the interviewer a chance to form clearer comparisons, according to Harvard Business Review.

As candidates answer questions, make sure you take good notes, scoring each answer immediately after provided. When you wait until the interview is over to record your thoughts, you open yourself up to unintentional bias and can favor candidates for their speaking style over substance. Create a rubric and compare candidate responses answer by answer to reduce the chance one answer might influence the grade of another. Interviewers often discover a candidate gives superb answers to some questions but deeply disappointing ones to others.

Try to skip the personal talk, like asking a candidate if they’re a fan of a local sports team. You don’t want to bond over something that won’t help you find the best candidate. Get feedback from more than one person in your organization, and make sure your recruiting team is diverse, too. People commonly look for someone like themselves in interviews, so the more faces you have on your hiring team, the better your chances of hiring a more diverse staff.

Overcome your bias

Even when you go into an interview with an intention to be fair, unintentional bias can creep in. It’s hard to recognize because it’s natural, but structured interviews and comparative evaluations will produce better results than going with your gut.

And there’s a compelling reason to clean up your hiring, Klawe told Wired: “If there are not many women, or people of color, or older people, or low­-income people getting that technical education and those technical jobs, it’s going to further polarize the situation in the country,” she said. “It’s a question of transforming our society so a large enough fraction of people have opportunities for productive work.”

Take these suggestions to heart and you won’t just transform your company—you’ll help transform society, too.

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