I’m Dreamin’ of a… Little More Diversity

How startups can approach diversity hiring with these 3 approaches


Promoting diversity is a hot-button topic in hiring practices lately, particularly in the technology industry where - according to the National Science Foundation - women comprise only 12.9% of U.S. engineering workforce, and African-Americans barely more than 5%.

What’s more, areas like Seattle and Silicon Valley may be at the forefront of cultural diversity but, despite renewed efforts, that diversity doesn’t extend to the workplace. Statistics don’t lie. Just 4% of Facebook employees are Hispanic and only 2% are African-American. Microsoft is doing slightly better in terms of racial diversity, but it is also behind the curve as far as gender hiring. Amazon fares stronger on paper, but much of the diverse demographics its employees represent hold low-paying, non-technical jobs.

Yet, for all this lack of diversity, some are lashing out at tech company programs designed to address the problem. Most notably by the now-former Google engineer James Damore’s recent manifesto that suggested women’s underrepresentation in engineering has its roots in genetics (wha?!). Nevertheless, programs designed to rectify workplace bias and embrace new outreach face a growing cast of vocal skeptics.

So what do you do? Well, here are three things for growing companies to consider if they truly want to foster diversity within their organizations:


Transparency and accountability

Best to start with first taking inventory of current demographics and be very honest about these numbers with candidates and what you’re doing to improve them. Even if your numbers are bad, you’ll get credit for sharing. Unfortunately, the numbers continue to be bleak for women and minorities. But at least acknowledging the issue publicly is a smart step in addressing the problems that come with it.

For most startups, such transparency isn’t expected. But a common practice of all companies is to highlight backgrounds of company leadership and feature birdseye views of employee diversity through online company photos. And while this gives prospective applicants an idea of the company’s culture insofar as its gender and racial demographics, it doesn’t adequately address the issue. As with Amazon, women and minorities pictured might represent every department except Engineering (oops). For this reason, startups that are actively recruiting and hiring with diversity goals in mind should consider transparently detailing the makeup of their Engineering teams specifically.


Cultivating corporate diversity through education

A key factor in breaking down demographic barriers in the workplace is through community outreach and education. In China, for instance, where STEM subjects are emphasized for all students early on, 40% of the country’s engineers are now women.

While American companies can’t directly steer federal education policy, they can do their part in fostering interest and activity in tech-related studies and careers across gender and races by spearheading outreach programs that involve having women and minority engineers serve as educators and role models within their community. In fact, many leading tech companies of all sizes are already doing so through organizations like TAF (Technology Access Foundation) and YearUp. This sends a positive signal that they’re interested in and supportive of diversity.


Tackling bias head-on with key hires

But in terms of hiring and recruiting practices, there’s really just one key approach that tends to flourish while others fail: The organizations that successfully attract and retain diverse workforces are those that empower diversity from the top rungs of company leadership.

Strong company leadership is the key to getting ahead on issues of diversity. A recent Forbes Insights study found that seven in ten companies report that the ultimate responsibility of their diversity efforts rests with C-level executives and their companies’ boards of directors.

So you want to attract a diverse workforce? Then the easiest way will be to hire women and minorities for top management roles that make hiring decisions. These managers bring new points of view that will otherwise be lacking, and are more likely to hire candidates of similarly diverse backgrounds. Then you’ll see diverse hires across the board, seamlessly branching out and down to all levels in the organization.


Put a Ring On It: Recruiting in a Candidate-Driven Market

I can't tell if people think I'm just plain crazy or that I'm being disingenuous when I tell them that I'm a startup junkie. Inevitably, they ask if I've "cashed in", assuming that's why I still drink the Kool-aid. But the answer is I haven't.  Not really, anyway.  So why do I love them so?

We all have a “friend” who dated someone for years who was kicked to the curb for somebody else willing to make a commitment.  Just like our “friend”, companies are being kicked to the curb by candidates who have no need to wait when multiple suitors are proposing offers.

Even worse, some companies have been trained to slow their hiring processes for fear of making a bad hire - a cultural mismatch, technical mismatch, or a premature hire the company can’t afford.  Such outdated paradigms will cost them big when competing for exceptional tech employees in a candidate-driven market.

A recent Recruiter Sentiment study by MRINetwork found the top two factors keeping employers from adding to their headcount are lengthy hiring processes and hiring managers not finding enough suitable candidates.  Companies that refuse to acknowledge the tech industry is in a candidate-driven market continue to do so at their peril.  Stringing along a candidate because you can’t get your shit together will cause you to lose exceptional talent to the competition who has already figured this out.  And your cold feet will also affect your ability to source suitable candidates to fill your pipeline.

But here’s the real heartbreak: if you go by the estimate that an employee generates two times their annual salary in the work they produce, every day a role remains unfilled is costing you.

Henry Ward, CEO of eShares, has put a lot of thought into how to hire.  In an excerpt from their November 2015 Town Hall, Ward argued that companies tend to take their time with hiring because they’re afraid of “False Positives”.  False Positives are hires you thought would work out but didn’t.  “False Negatives” are candidates you didn’t hire but should have - the ones who got away.  A poetic example of a False Negative is Brian Acton.  Facebook didn’t hire him in 2009, and then bought his company WhatsApp in 2014 for $19B.  Oh, the wasted years.  And money!  Ward’s point?  Learn from False Positives and hire better next time.  False Positives are okay; False Negatives are not.

But all this talk of moving faster isn’t to say you can take your eye off the prize.  You still need to try to hire candidates whose best work is in front of them.  However, in a candidate-driven market, you can’t let slow, inefficient, or overly sequential processes dominate.  Hiring should use the same agile methodology as software development - move quickly, fail quickly, adjust, repeat.

So don’t be afraid to hire fast and fire fast if the match isn’t right.  But do be afraid - very, very afraid - of what you’ll lose if you let your hiring process slow you down and get in the way of hiring those next great candidates.  They won’t wait long for you to put a ring on it.

If your startup needs a recruiting strategy for a candidate-driven market, HireLabs can help.

Holiday Recruiting: How to Win Talent in the Slow Season

Sure, ‘tis the season and all that.  But don’t get drunk on holiday cheer and run your recruiting plan into a ditch.  It’s typical to take your foot off the gas to focus on other business activities when it appears everyone seems uninterested in talking about a new job.  So here are a few ideas on what your startup could be doing during the holiday season:

  • Revamp your referral program.  Referrals continue to be the best source of hires, and a solid referral program is the best way to scale those no matter what your company’s hiring needs.  Take a good, hard look at what you’re doing now and ask if this will get you where you need to be by this time next year.  As Google discovered recently, throwing money at it isn’t enough.  If your employees aren’t making referrals, you need to ask yourself why.

  • Make use of your entire suite of recruiting tools. Not only the tools you already have in place, but researching new tools, especially if they’ll help boost referrals.  If you don’t have tools in place that make recruiting and sourcing easy, consider making the investment.

  • Don’t be a luddite!  In case you haven’t noticed, recruiting on social networks is all the rage right now.  Most applicant tracking systems and CRM’s have some sort of integration that makes it easy to share job openings on your employees’ networks.  Use it.