Diversity in the tech industry is a well-known problem–from the number of women and underrepresented minorities in tech companies, to the toxic culture and environment that tends to occur as a result. Even after pledges to improve diversity and introducing many initiatives to do so, very few tech companies have made significant progress. Any improvements are incremental at best, as the 2018 diversity reports from Google and Facebook illustrates.
What’s preventing them from making significant changes? Many tech companies continue to cite the “pipeline” problem–although as Fast Company‘s Cale Weissman previously pointed out, there is plenty of evidence disproving that theory time and time again. Others believe that many organizations are overly focused on a check-the-box approach and are foregoing the hard work required to create (and attract) a diverse and inclusive workforce.
To have a less homogenous workforce, tech companies need to recruit (and retain) diverse talent. But according to former recruiters and tech professionals, recruiters are often placed in an impossible position when it comes to bringing in these candidates. As they shared with Fast Company, many face these four barriers when they try to recruit diverse candidates.
Lack of support and buy-in from companies
Public pressure has driven companies to adopt public-facing diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as hiring diversity and inclusion officers. But as Gina Glantz and Morra Arrons-Mele previously wrote for Fast Company, “Intentionally or not, some public-facing initiatives wind up functioning like camouflage; leaders may hope that those efforts constitute meaningful progress, when in reality they just paper over how much progress there’s left to be made.”
When the mandate for hiring diverse candidates falls on diversity and inclusion officers, but isn’t considered a business priority from the CEO, it becomes very difficult for recruiters to bring in diverse candidates. Melissa James, former tech recruiter and founder and CEO of Tech Connection, tells Fast Company that in many organizations–human resources, talent acquisition, and diversity and inclusion don’t always work together. “As a former recruiter, I know that diversity is something that’s difficult to execute because of time and [lack of resources]. Time becomes of the essence for a recruiter, and it’s very difficult to pool into the talent market as quickly as the hiring manager would like.” Furthermore, companies don’t often have “metrics tied to a diverse set of candidates,” James says. As a result, many recruiters are not incentivized to focus on that, and if they do choose to, they lack the resources and support that’s required to pool nontraditional candidates.
An unwillingness to deviate from existing recruitment practices
Traditionally, tech recruiting is biased toward candidates who went to an elite university and have worked at brand-name tech companies. For entry-level jobs, campus recruiters tend to place their efforts in top colleges, and often don’t focus their efforts on candidates from non-elite schools or non-degree programs like coding bootcamps. Tasneem Minadakis, an engineering director who has worked for several top tech companies, tells Fast Company, “It’s not that employers are trying to exclude these schools from feeding into the pipeline,” it’s that employers aren’t dedicating their talent acquisition resources in those areas.
Even large tech companies face resource constraints when it comes to hiring. By default, they focus their energy on the schools that their existing employees come from. Company recruiters don’t often have insights on the return of investment of focusing on lesser-known colleges. “I recently spoke to a recruiter at a major tech company,” Minadakis says, and she asked how recruitment efforts in non-elite schools have translated to improving gender and racial diversity in companies. Many of them didn’t know, she says. Without a clear ROI, it becomes difficult to justify shifting hiring strategy.
Aline Lerner, former tech recruiter and cofounder of anonymous hiring platform Interviewing.io, tells Fast Company that using resumes as the first filter inherently punishes candidates who didn’t go to an elite school and/or never worked at a big-name company. Many underrepresented minority candidates don’t fit into this category, meaning that organizations are cutting themselves off from diverse qualified talent as early as the initial screening process. Lerner believes that this approach hurts companies not just in terms of diversity, but also in determining the merits of a potential new hire. In her personal blog, she writes, “Resumes are terrible predictors of engineering ability. I’ve looked at tens of thousands of resumes, and in software engineering roles, there is often very little correspondence between how someone looks on paper and whether they can actually do the job.”
Existing hiring practices make it difficult for nontraditional candidates to advance through the pipeline
Even when a nontraditional candidate does manage to make it through the first screening, Lerner believes that the existing structures of tech recruiting make it hard for them to advance. For starters, engineers are asked to solve problems that are often theoretical in nature and has nothing to do with what they’ll be doing in their day-to-day job. For those not used to this interview format, one bad performance can be demoralizing and discourage them from pursuing further opportunities.
As Lerner writes in Interviewing.io’s blog, “It takes a lot of interviews to get used to the process and the format and to understand that the stuff you do in technical interviews isn’t actually the stuff you do at work every day. And it takes people in your social circle all going through the same experience, screwing up interviews here and there, and getting back on the horse to realize that poor performance in one interview isn’t predictive of whether you’ll be a good engineer.”
Unfortunately, many tech companies aren’t investing time and effort in changing these practices. Lerner tells Fast Company that smaller tech startups often look to the likes of Google and Facebook for cues on hiring practices. After all, those companies do attract extremely talented engineers. But, as Lerner points out, “In reality, these companies are successful, not because of their processes, but almost despite them.” These companies have a strong brand, they have excellent engineers, and they’ve proven that if you work there, you can go on and do interesting work. “When you have that, you can be fast and loose with your process . . . Most companies are not in that position.”
Many recruiters are overworked and incentivized by short-term rewards
Ultimately, tech recruiters function like salespeople. Tracy Saunders, founder of Women’s Job Search Network and formerly a recruiter for Cisco, Amazon, and Google, tells Fast Company that they’re incentivized to fill a certain number of roles as soon as possible, since that’s the fastest way for them to earn their commission. “With diversity, you need to spend an exorbitant amount of time–not only do you have to find them, you have to interest them. I’d say that a mid-level recruiter that’s doing mid-level recruiting, they can’t do that, it’s just not within their bandwith.”
Lerner says, “Everybody is set up to fail. It’s unfortunate that recruiters are not incentivized to take risks. You have very strict quotas, there are established ways of doing things. You’re stumbling around in the dark. You might have their LinkedIn or GitHub, but GitHub is really hard to get signal from if you’re not technical.” In addition, the short-term mentality is compounded by the fact that a large number of recruiters are hired as contractors, bouncing from one company to another. When there’s no longevity, it becomes very hard to implement any strategic changes.
Ultimately, Lerner believes that without institutional changes at the top, it’s very difficult for recruiters to make any inroads on diversity. What needs to happen, Lerner says, is for tech companies to start looking critically at the hiring process.
“A lot of CEOs farm out hiring as something that recruiting needs to worry about,” Lerner said.”[But] any change that requires interdepartmental approval is not going to happen unless it comes from the top.”