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If you want more innovation, hire a more diverse tech team

When it comes to technology, diverse teams can actually create better products than homogenous ones. Here's how to hire more diverse candidates for your tech roles.

If you want more innovation, hire a more diverse tech team

“Hiring for diversity” rolls off the tongue easily, as it has for decades. But this HR slogan is much more than a PR play. There are concrete business imperatives for fielding a diverse workforce, especially in technology.

According to a report by Ernst & Young, companies that rank high for hiring diverse candidates are 35% more likely to show higher financial returns in their industry.  So, there’s a bottom line imperative. But for technology, it’s more than just profit margins that are impacted by diverse talent. Diverse teams also lead to more and better innovation.

“You want creative abrasion that’s the result of different viewpoints,” says Jennifer Brown, principal of Jennifer Brown Consulting.  “It’s difficult or impossible for homogeneous groups to look at old problems in new ways—and that’s a critical element of innovation.”

But despite evidence that diversity breeds innovation, even top tech firms struggle to reach this goal, particularly with female, African-American, and Latinx populations.

Among 10 of the biggest-name tech firms, Microsoft and Facebook rank near the bottom, with only 19% of technology positions held by women, according to a Recode analysis of company data. Amazon is near the top, with 27% of women in tech jobs—still a long way from parity. In 2018, only 2.5% of Google’s total workforce was African-American, and just 3.6% was Latinx, according to a company report.

This is a huge problem for business because tech workforces, where white men dominate, are developing products and services for diverse customer bases.

Yes, achieving diversity is hard, but it’s well worth the effort. So let’s talk about investments that your organization can make to improve the diversity of its technical teams.

Pivot the way you think about resumes and job descriptions

When companies seek to connect with new and diverse audiences, they need a team of technologists who represent those audiences. This leads to better UI, better products, and overall better customer experiences. But how do you create these teams when all you’re presented with is a sea of resumes that don’t tell a human story, just a list of abilities and achievements?

“People have been hiring mediocre people who look like themselves for millennia,” says Brown. “You’ve got to work hard to create diverse teams.”

This starts with how you write the job description. Research shows, for instance, that women will only apply to jobs where they feel 100% qualified, so if they see a list of job requirements where they feel proficient for only 75% of them, they may not apply for the job at all. 

Try only listing the must-haves on your list of job requirements, and resist the temptation to load your job ad with requirements that aren’t necessary and could cause certain candidates to abstain.

Also, think beyond the traditional resume. Some observers see solely resume-based job applications as especially ineffective in tech.

“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,” writes Aline Lerner, a former tech recruiter and CEO of the video-interviewing platform interviewing.io.

Not all candidates follow the same career trajectory, and diverse backgrounds lead to experience levels that can appear different on paper. Lerner suggests that rather than relying solely on work history and experience, recruiters should instead use tests that assess cognitive abilities and relevant skills.

Highlight diversity in your employer branding

Organizations that seek to build more diversity into their tech teams can begin with their employer brand. Whether it’s your career site, social channels, or how you present yourself at industry events, you want to position your company as being as diverse as possible, and highlight the strength of your diverse workforce.

Additionally, it’s just as important for recruiters, HR people, and hiring managers to make diversity a constant in their communications with candidates.

“Companies should talk about their diversity commitment with every interviewee,” not just those who are perceived to be members of an underrepresented group, says Brown. Organizations need to select candidates who understand the value of diversity.

Recruiters sometimes have to walk a fine line between pleasing clients who are saying they want to hire for a cultural fit while at the same time professing a desire for greater diversity in their tech departments, says Brown. In order to create diversity, you’ve got to be willing to think beyond cultural fit and hire candidates whose background and outlook brings the new ideas and innovation you need.

Connect with diverse communities

To raise the proportion of underrepresented groups in your candidate pool, your company needs to reach out to organizations that represent those groups.

One such organization is Opportunity Hub, which works to improve career opportunities in tech for members of minority groups. For instance, Opportunity Hub brings hundreds of students from historically black colleges and universities to Austin to interview with technology companies.

Employers can start to level the playing field of educational attainment by developing and funding active outreach programs. “A lot of companies are creating apprenticeships for career changers and investing in outreach to educate prospects on the process to get them up to speed before the technical interview,” says Lerner.

“People with nontraditional educational backgrounds are not as socialized in the standard algorithmic interview,” Lerner adds. “If you went to Stanford or MIT or wherever, you got of a lot of practice in technical interviewing. So you get very used to the format, which is a learned skill.”

Diversify your management and the recruiting team

Talking up diversity is important, but the proof is in the composition of the teams leading your company and its recruitment efforts.

“Effective diversity and inclusion efforts have to start with corporate governance, with putting women and people of color on the board and in the C suite,” says Rodney Sampson, CEO of Opportunity Hub.. “You have to have leaders with backbone.”

Finally, technical candidates will not be convinced of a company’s commitment to diversity until they interview with people who look like them. “The process needs to include interviewers who reflect the gender or ethnicity of the person being interviewed,” says Sampson.

So, creating a diverse tech team shouldn’t just be something you do for the optics. It can benefit your bottom line and the technology you hope to innovate—if you’re willing to take steps toward changing the make-up of your tech talent pool.