Employees are more picky than before about the kind of organisation they will work for — and few sectors know this more than technology.
“If you’re a start-up, you compete for talent with everyone,” says Michelle Coventry, talent adviser at Kindred, a UK venture capital firm. “Attracting people to your start-up in the early days is often harder than securing funding.”
Yet building a diverse team in a tech business is even harder.
Many tech companies are not proactive enough when hiring, says Nikos Moraitakis, founder and chief executive of Workable, a recruitment platform. “The most effective way to improve diversity is to change your sourcing strategies,” he says.
That starts outside the office. The tech world is brimming with local meetups for diverse groups, from women working in the sector to LGBTQ networks. Tech companies should attend, talk at and sponsor these events, he advises.
Start-ups are often reluctant to post jobs on jobs boards, such as Indeed, and prefer to hire via their networks. That is a terrible idea for diversity, says Mr Moraitakis: “Job sites are the most diverse thing out there.”
Tech companies are also turning to social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook to advertise job roles to relevant individuals — and they secure a more diverse set of applicants. “Why? Because everybody’s on social media,” says Mr Moraitakis.
“Open up your world, go to places you don’t usually go, post in places you don’t usually post,” he says. “The quality of your hiring comes down to the quality of your choices.” During the assessment process, consistency is important in order to give all candidates an equal chance. Workable has a popular feature that helps companies build interview kits, including scorecards and a set of questions to ask each applicant.
Mr Moraitakis also praises the “relative objectivity” of old-fashioned CVs and skill assessments.
He believes degrees from top universities are overrated, however. “Judge people by their relative performance — what they’ve accomplished compared to what resources they were given,” says Mr Moraitakis. “Don’t look for what people have done, look for what they can do.”
Diversity and inclusion goes far beyond recruitment, not that all companies realise this. “The tendency for these things to rest with HR is quite damaging. It gets seen as another HR policy, a tick box exercise,” says Mac Alonge, co-founder of The Equal Group, a British diversity consultancy.
Organisations may make token gestures, says Mr Alonge. Take the Pride festival, when companies give their logos a rainbow-coloured background.
“If a company thinks that by changing its logo it no longer has to consider how people from the LGBT community feel on a day-to-day basis, it gives them an easy way out,” he says.
Instead, a company’s leaders need to be deeply involved with diversity and inclusion, and to be held accountable.
“[You should] structure bonus incentives in such a way that D & I becomes a key incentive for leaders,” suggests Mr Alonge. He recommends that leaders sponsor diversity networks, participate in bilateral mentoring and get a coach.
Collecting qualitative and quantitative data on diversity can help bring about change. This may include measuring how many applicants from a certain group are getting through to interview; how many women are on the board, or whether particular demographics are considering leaving the company. “If you’re measuring it, you can manage it and you can improve it,” says Ms Coventry.
“Companies should look at diversity and inclusion today with the same granularity they look at financial data,” says Mr Alonge.
Bilateral mentoring Match junior with senior colleagues and ask them to mentor each other. “It helps everyone to learn about perspectives outside their immediate experience,” says Mr Alonge.
Nuanced data Gather data regularly on all aspects of “people operations”, from the hiring process to pay rises, says Ms Coventry: “Where are people dropping out? Are you losing female engineers?”
Ask employees Give employees frequent opportunities to give feedback anonymously on what is working and what is not. “People often like [anonymity] to give real feedback to their employer,” says Ms Coventry.
Lead from the top Make sure everything your organisation does is inclusive — do not think of this as an HR function.
Communication Consider how forms of communication may exclude some groups or how social activities could shut out others. For instance, people with neurodiversity — which includes autism, dyspraxia and Tourette syndrome — may dislike speaking to a big group.
Be conscious of socio-economic barriers Judge people by performance relative to the resources available to them.
Shortlists “A lot of recruitment agencies don’t provide a diverse shortlist unless specifically asked for it,” says Mr Alonge.
Reassess what ‘good’ looks like When hiring and promoting, review your assumptions about what candidates need to succeed. Consider the skills essential to a role — otherwise do not require them.