The research is clear: diverse teams are more effective than homogenous teams. Having various perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds all looking at the same problem and coming up with different solutions is the backbone of innovation.
Before you start reinventing your hiring and onboarding processes, there are a multitude of things to consider.
As the first person of color hired at Help Scout, I value the way diversity is engaged, both as a company-wide value and on a personal level. With our team nearly doubling in size within the last year, we’re consciously considering the powerful asset of diversity so that we can continue to be a forward-thinking company.
All hands are on board for building a diverse team, not only because it’s the right thing to do—any applicant in any industry should have a fair chance—but also because it champions creativity and problem solving. We ask ourselves how other companies are succeeding in building diversity, where we are falling short, and how we can improve. Where can we contribute and how can we make a difference?
Here are some of the ideas that have helped us as we engage diversity.
1. Inclusion and Diversity at Slack
Slack has outlined their process in hiring for diversity by showing data, providing context, and humbly admitting that this isn’t a scoreboard or a competition—it’s an engagement with the community on a topic that deserves attention.
I particularly love this statement:
“Our primary goal is to avoid becoming yet another place where underrepresented groups exit the technology industry. We don’t want to be a place where people give up on their ambitions. All kinds of people should be able to be successful at Slack. While much focus has been on the pipeline, we understand that increasing the diversity of applicants and new hires will not result in any significant change if people from underrepresented groups cannot thrive at the company.”
As our Help Scout team rapidly grows, we too are being mindful about our processes and what we can do better. It’s companies like Slack that help us gain new ideas and perspectives and challenge us in this endeavor.
2. How Diversity Makes Us Smarter
It seems like decades of research points to something that many of us already know. We’ve all experienced the enriching effects of embracing different perspectives from various cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicities. It helps us see problems anew, consider ideas that may go unnoticed, and fosters the kind of creativity that champions change.
3. The Other Side of Diversity
Erica Joy shares her story of being a woman of color early on in the tech industry, sharing personal experiences as well as wise insights that allow for those who are unfamiliar with such feelings to empathize and understand. She details what her first job was like, when she was the only black person and only woman on her team:
“My coworkers walked on eggshells in my presence, so I did my best to make them feel comfortable around me so that I would be included. I laughed at their terribly racist and sexist jokes, I co-opted their negative attitudes, I began to dress as they did, I brushed it off when they made passes at me. I did everything I could to make them feel like I was one of them, even though I clearly was not.”
It’s vital for voices like these to be heard as we seek to build a diverse workplace. Hiring for diversity doesn’t end once the papers are signed; it’s an ongoing process of learning from one another.
4. Diversity Debt: How Much Does Your Startup Have?
Andrea Barrica at 500.co outlines a helpful framework for reducing diversity debt in the early phase of a company, and she defines the steps that can help even as you’re growing. Some of these steps include understanding unconscious biases, watching out for people who always do certain roles (do women tend to stay around and clean up after an event?), and hiring for diversity as early as you can.
Barrica says, “The more people your company hires until you have a diverse team (meaning an array of genders, LGBT, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, able-bodiedness, etc.) — the more diversity debt your organization has accrued.”
5. When Women Stopped Coding
How do we begin to understand the lack of diversity in the pipeline of talent? To start, let’s take a hard look at culture and traditional education.
NPR provides fascinating data and perspective on what may have happened around the 1990s when women stopped entering computer science fields. This is a dot worth connecting to the lack of women in tech today, not as an all-encompassing answer, but as one angle that helps add up to the problem at large.
6. Why I Believe in Intentional Efforts to Hire for Diversity
Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz and Inbound.org, offers a compelling and honest perspective on why he’s consciously hiring for diversity and the roadblocks that must be overcome.
“We all want to live in a world where there’s no question about why they picked you – you were the best, most qualified candidate, full stop. But we can’t live in that world yet, because we haven’t all had equal privilege and opportunity. Some of us start with clear, unfair advantages rooted in history. Failing to acknowledge that distribution and pretending there’s an equality of privilege is a form of willful ignorance that maintains those biases.”
I believe the first step that companies face is defining diversity: what does diversity look like? Why is it important? What processes, language, and attitude will your company pursue to not only hire for diversity, but to engage diversity on a daily basis? If you’re doing it to fill a quota based on popular belief, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
Hiring a diverse team is a process. It’s not about completely emulating what another company is doing; your company may not be at that stage yet. But it’s something that’s worthy of application—not to pander to media or what science says—but because it’s undeniably fruitful for the growth of the company and enriching to the employees.
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