Closing the tech diversity gap

May 2021

There’s a diversity gap in the tech industry, with many leading tech companies failing to sufficiently reflect their user base demographics. Different demographics using apps that are created by homogenous teams can cause problems. But tech companies can address this problem by prioritising diversity hiring. A team of robustly different individuals will create a product that appeals to more people, which will likely result in higher revenues and adoption rates. But so many tech companies are yet to rethink their hiring culture in order to create a more diverse team. 

This may be more a question of a lack of resource and understanding, than good intention. In reality there’s plenty of diverse and talented tech workers who can and want to contribute to complex projects. But companies must be willing first to look for them, secondly to give them the opportunity, and thirdly to establish the kind of culture necessary to hang on to them. A tech company might have the best intentions to increase diversity in its workforce, but it needs to be more than just a boardroom imperative. It needs to become a journey of continual recommitment and reassessment. 

“In reality there’s plenty of diverse and talented tech workers who can and want to contribute to complex projects.”

Tech is diversifying. So why shouldn’t its workforce?

Working in tech, these days, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a full stack developer. Many leading tech companies extend their capabilities and interests to markets outside of the creation of apps or electronics. Apple and Amazon, for example, have Hollywood-caliber production companies for their streaming services. Other tech companies harness their powers of innovation for social or environmental causes. Many companies even stretch the word tech and call themselves a "tech company" despite just providing a service that uses technology. IBM, for example, may be a tech company but one that doesn't involve itself in markets outside of chipmaking and computer science. So, the field of tech is diversifying. The definition of a “tech” company has expanded. But how might the sectors’ workforce be diversified in the same way?

“Many leading tech companies extend their capabilities and interests to markets outside of the creation of apps or electronics.”

Beyond the tech nerd stereotype

To bring tech up to speed in terms of diversity, employers should be considering candidates outside of the technology sector, in its pure sense. Teachers, mechanical engineers, designers and writers can all contribute something valuable to your company, even if they can't write code, or know what JavaScript is. For example, a mechanical engineer might find better ways to incorporate the hardware into devices or optimise cooling power in small spaces. A teacher might be adept at deconstructing complex ideas and teaching other employees or trainees how to apply them. A copywriter might be crucial in articulating the company’s vision and proposition, or driving sales through smart advertising. In short, employers should look beyond the classic tech candidate profile, and consider different skills and experiences

“Teachers, mechanical engineers, designers and writers can all contribute something valuable to your company.”

Hiring on all cylinders

To diversify your team, re-energise your hiring process. Relying on job boards, networking sites such as LinkedIn and other standard hiring sites will lead you to the same types of employees that currently make up your company. Especially as the algorithms behind many of these sites have a history of bias. Instead, create an application process that goes beyond your typical CV, cover letter, college status check and industry references. Pose original questions. Set surprising challenges. Comb through applications in a consciously different way. Give women and ethnic and minorities equal representation. And most importantly, be willing to not only hire diverse talent, but create the kind of culture that will allow that talent to do their best work. 

“Set surprising challenges. Comb through applications in a consciously different way. Train your HR team not to judge a book by its cover.”

Personality counts

Relative professional experience is obviously important for finding a candidate who can perform well, but soft skills and personality traits can be equally important for productivity and team cohesion. While some of your employees need to know the difference between computer science vs. engineering, others might bring different insights, and ones that are no less valuable. Think about employing people that know things that your classic tech nerds might not. People who can offer a genuinely fresh perspective. Sometimes it’s the ones without a degree in data science who will bring something special to the party.

Happy (boot)campers

Tech bootcamps are great ways for companies to find varied candidates who exude motivation and have all the necessary oomph to get a hard job done. Bootcamps are startup-like environments that teach students to code in a few months so they can attain high paying jobs in tech, a metaphorical basketball court where every student, from any kind of background, has an equal shot at the goal. These bootcamps are hard to get into and competitive once inside, but they’re also an amazing forum for people to attain complex skills in just a few weeks —  a chance to launch careers, change careers, and become a major player in a field you might otherwise have thought off-limits. Students from bootcamps like Lambda School will bring energy to your company, a strong team mentality and a willingness to grab the ball and run with it. And while they typically come from a wide range of backgrounds, many being career changers, they’ll provide your team with new wisdom.

“Tech bootcamps are great ways for companies to find varied candidates who exude motivation and have all the necessary oomph to get a hard job done.”

All in? A bigger win.

Tech workers can and should come from a variety of backgrounds. People are paying attention to the makeup of the companies they join or do business with, and there’s a growing desire to see a diverse group of people with faces and experiences that line up with their own. A diverse company will better be able to incentivise the team, retain talent and meet the needs of more customers – nurturing culture, boosting productivity and, ultimately, driving growth.

Sources

Guest author

Artur Meyster, Founder and CTO of CareerKarma https://careerkarma.com/