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.


Tom ThompsonComment