A Holistic Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in the Technical Hiring Process
Today, diversity and inclusion present a major opportunity for the tech industry. Research shows that a diverse workforce leads to higher performance and more resilient companies — and we’ve all got room to improve where representation, pay, and hiring are concerned.
A 2021 survey of over 2,000 early-career tech workers and 270 business leaders by market research firm Wiley revealed that 68% of polled businesses feel there isn’t enough diversity in their tech workforce. Nearly a quarter said they didn’t know how to address the issue.
Creating a more equitable workplace requires a concerted effort from the C-suite down to recruiting. Hiring, in particular, is a significant source of concern. 65% of HR specialists, hiring managers, and IT leaders believe recruitment for technical roles has issues with bias.
So what should we do about it — and how can growing organizations lead the way?
This guide outlines a set of best practices to make the best possible hires and promote a diverse, representative workforce.
- Source broadly
- Assess on-the-job skills, not just CVs
- Interview inclusively
- Evaluate and evolve your process
- Invest in a robust onboarding and engagement plan
The pandemic forced a shift to remote work that has also normalized some hiring practices that are suited for more diverse and inclusive recruiting. Sourcing candidates from all over, instead of just a few expensive metropolitan areas, has helped companies grow and opened opportunities for more workers.
But geography is just one piece of the puzzle. Candidate sourcing must go beyond traditional channels like college campus recruiting and alumni boards. The talent is out there. Sample data from interviewing.io — a platform that facilitates skills-first, anonymous interviewing with companies ranging from Lyft to Dropbox and Quora — showed that 40% of hires came from non-traditional backgrounds.
Instead, your sourcing should focus on networks that serve diverse candidates and prioritize community engagement.
In college recruiting, for instance, the advent of virtual career fairs means recruiting students from a wide array of backgrounds is possible regardless of geography. With access to students from community colleges, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), or programs in economically developing nations, leveraging virtual career fairs adds a new dimension to your sourcing.
Aside from campus recruiting, seek out non-academic channels like bootcamps and workshops. You can also partner with programs like YearOne, an organization that specializes in helping early-career software engineers of all backgrounds gain experience. Other job boards and community organizations include Lesbians Who Tech, Out in Tech, and Black Girls Code.
Consider community events like hackathons, too. These can be an invaluable tool in recruiting by exposing your company to a huge amount of potential engineers and offering a real-time view of their skills. Online hackathons provide instant access to as many as 2,000 coders in a single day while leaving the biases attached to university affiliation or location at the (virtual) door.
Lastly, although referrals are a part of every recruiting team’s toolkit, you should be careful not to base too much of your hiring on internal networks. Referral systems can impede broader DEI goals; according to research from Glassdoor, the percentage of BIPOC referral candidates in the IT sector has decreased by nearly 20% since 2010.
Assess on-the-job skills, not CVs
With each passing year, the CV’s shortcomings become more apparent. In fact, CoderPad’s industry-wide hiring survey found that almost 60% of recruiters are ready to say goodbye to resumes altogether.
Relying too heavily on resumes is not only inefficient for tech organizations, but it’s also an engine of bias — and new AI sorting systems only make the problem worse. A University of Pennsylvania report highlighted that Black professionals in today’s employment marketplace receive 30% to 50% fewer job call-backs when their resumes contain information tied to their racial identity.
To remove unconscious bias at the top of your hiring funnel, use a skills assessment first. An assessment will tell you whether the candidate has the necessary skills for the role, without bias to whether they went to the “right” school or worked at the “right” companies.
With testing platforms like the CodinGame Assessment, you have the option to anonymize assessments by removing candidates’ personal identifying information.
One last tip: even if your assessment provides a score, you shouldn’t use it as a ranking system or give preferential treatment to high-scoring applicants. Instead, it’s best to view the assessment as a pass/fail screening mechanism.
When it comes time to interview, strive to create an inclusive experience for every single candidate who passes the skills assessment.
The first step lies in getting the format right. If your goal is facilitating consistency and an equal playing field, your company’s first-round interviews should take place by phone, not video.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has made Zoom calls the norm, they can be yet another facet of unconscious bias. Do all candidates have a stable internet connection? Is everyone able to find a quiet, calm environment on short notice? Switching to phones lessens these imbalances while mitigating long-standing “appearance biases.”
Next, schedule a CoderPad live interview that allows interviewers and candidates to collaborate in real-time. Why choose the live interview over whiteboards? Over the last few years, it’s been proven that whiteboard-style interviews exclude candidates who struggle with time limitations. They also put undue stress on engineers. A study conducted by North Carolina State University and Microsoft suggests that “qualified job candidates are being eliminated because they’re not used to working on a whiteboard in front of an audience.’
With a live interview environment, however, you can gauge a candidate’s real skills and assess how they perform in a way that more closely resembles day-to-day work. To ensure your live interview lets candidates do their best work and promotes fairness, follow these tips:
- Ask questions geared toward the skills of the job, not knowledge of your company’s specific product and market.
- Think about it this way: If you were hiring a store manager, would you be more impressed if they knew every piece of inventory or if they had excellent interpersonal and organizational skills?
- Standardize questions and calibrate evaluation rubrics so that all candidates for a particular role are assessed based on common expectations. For some examples, check out our guide to creating language-agnostic programming interview questions.
- Create space for candidates to brainstorm during interviews without being watched; this alleviates the pressure of a timed interview where candidates feel like every moment of downtime is a tally against them.
- Structure hiring panels to include and represent diverse employees and encourage interviewers to share values of inclusion and community proactively.
Evaluate and evolve your process
Designing for diverse, inclusive hiring isn’t a one-off effort. It’s an ongoing, living process. To continue improving, document your progress and constantly seek feedback from as many stakeholders as possible.
Your documentation and measurement processes should incorporate feedback from
- 3rd parties, such as HR professionals who can assess questions objectively
- Underrepresented employees from within your organization; however, you should still make it a priority not to overload already-busy team members
- Candidates who have gone through the process themselves
In addition to collecting feedback, you should also measure your throughput at each stage of the hiring funnel. That way, you can clearly pinpoint where candidates fall off. These passthrough rates ultimately identify hidden biases within your funnel. For instance, if only a small percentage of underrepresented candidates make it through the phone screen, you should re-evaluate your questions and criteria.
The best way to keep building up inclusive practices is to document feedback, notes, and best practices centrally. With tools for asynchronous collaboration like Notion, you can keep the momentum up and track comprehensively even as your funnel reaches higher volumes.
Above all, don’t be afraid to change your process — even if it takes time and money to do so.
Invest in a robust onboarding and engagement plan
A 2021 report on diversity in tech found that “50% of 18- to 28-year-old employees left (or wanted to leave) tech or IT jobs because they felt unwelcome or uncomfortable.” This number was even higher for Asian, Black, and Hispanic respondents, who cited their identity as the top reason for feeling excluded.
New employees of all backgrounds need to feel a sense of belonging from day one. But that doesn’t happen spontaneously. To help new hires feel like part of the team right away, you should invest in a structured onboarding plan featuring built-in engagement activities.
When it comes to onboarding, many organizations find there’s no such thing as too much planning — and for good reason. Survey results show that companies with standard onboarding training increase their new employee retention rates by 50%. Whether it’s pair programming sessions with senior engineers, virtual happy hours, or designated buddy systems, it takes time to foster familiarity and psychological safety. After all, healthy company culture means walking the walk when it comes to work-life balance.
Although you may want to expose potential hires to team members of all backgrounds, you shouldn’t put too much of the hiring responsibility on underrepresented individual contributors. Instead, integrate cross-organizational activities into your onboarding plan to establish a sense of community that goes far beyond the final interview.
Diversity makes us all stronger. Research from McKinsey proves that companies in the top quartile for diversity also outperform financially. It starts with an inclusive technical hiring process that prioritizes a candidate’s true on-the-job skills — not whether they went to the same schools or worked in the same companies as your existing workforce.
We all have plenty of work to do to make technical hiring less terrible and more fair–so let’s get to it!