By Jami Rutherford
In the effort to increase the diversity of technology companies, one area where efforts often break down is the hiring process. A recent Fast Company article discusses how Pinterest’s efforts at recruiting more diverse candidates stalled in this area. I’d like to share some practical suggestions that worked for a team I was a part of. Hopefully, our experience will be helpful to others in increasing the diversity of your team, whether it is racial, gender, sexual orientation or another dimension of diversity you are seeking.
We were a technical support team that had several shifts in order to cover a wide variety of time zones. We realized that in order to cover these unusual hours, we would need to hire people who were in some ways different than ourselves (at a minimum, they needed to have very different sleep schedules). While thinking about how to grow our team, our focus was to be as inclusive as possible in attracting candidates, while at the same time focusing on those who would succeed in the position, and gel with our team. Initially, we weren’t targeting increasing diversity across a specific dimension. Because we focused relentlessly on inclusion, our result was a team that was diverse across age, race, nationality, gender and physical ability.
Include the skills that really matter
Our first step was to take a critical look at our job description. We started with a small group of team leads to identify the qualities that our high performing team members shared, focused on the skills a candidate truly needed to be successful, and avoided using a generic requirement as a proxy for that skill. For example, we had listed “proficiency in SQL” as a job requirement in the past, but came to the decision that a successful candidate was actually someone who was a technical generalist, adept at learning software languages, who could learn specific SQL syntax quickly. So we updated our job description with similar language and saw significant improvements in the applicants who applied.
Include the core values of your team
In addition to skills, we also spent time identifying the values that made the team successful and cohesive as a group. This enabled us to focus on similarities that were important as opposed to ones that weren’t. We included the entire team in discussions to identify our core values, what was important for us to maintain in our team culture as we grew, and what qualities made us successful collectively. Some of the things we identified were empathy, valuing collaboration, and a willingness to listen and learn. We included language in our job description that articulated our values, and we made sure to ask questions related to these in our interviews (more on that later).
Include a reality check on your job description
Lastly, we vetted our updated job descriptions with team members actually in the position during the review process to make sure what we had written accurately described the work they were doing day-to-day. We also wanted to make sure that the updated descriptions described someone we would want to work with and who would make a successful addition to the team. As a result of all of this work, we had a job description that focused on the skills and traits it took to be a successful member of our team, rather than a specific demographic.
After spending a great deal of time focusing on the skills and values we found important in building our job description, we wanted to make sure the interview process was structured in such a way that we focused on these skills/qualities, rather than superficial similarities. To do this we took a few key steps.
Include a clear process to evaluate candidates against core skills and values
In order to maximize our effectiveness in vetting candidates we thoroughly prepared interviewers for their role in the process. Prior to interviewing candidates, we’d meet as a group to make sure everyone thoroughly understood the position and the values/skills we were most interested in. We also built a menu of sample interview questions that mapped to each of the key competencies and values of the position. We encouraged interviewers to focus on areas they were most familiar with, but having a framework helped to ensure we were gathering information about the skills we had agreed were the most important.
Include multiple perspectives in the interview process
We assembled a group of interviewers to get evaluation input from a variety of perspectives, as well as expose candidates to the various types of people and functions they’d be working with within our organization. We included team leads, peers, and members of departments we worked with most closely. Initially, our interviewers reflected the makeup of our company overall- white and male, although we still had the benefit of perspectives from various roles within our company. However, as our team grew, and the diversity of the team increased, the makeup of our interviewer group changed dramatically!
Include a collaborative forum to discuss candidate evaluations
Lastly, we utilized both individual, written feedback as well as a group discussion in the review process. We found that this gave us an opportunity to learn how our individual impressions were or were not reinforced by the insights of others. One important takeaway for us was learning that candidates tend to ask very different questions of interviewers in different roles, which helped provide important information about their skills and interest in the position. We also realized that different team members had different strengths in terms of the types of skills they were good at evaluating and this gave us a much more well rounded perspective on candidates. While as individuals we might often be drawn towards a candidate we related to on a personal level, our group discussion also helped us stay accountable to focusing on skills and the candidate that would be the best fit for the team.
We found that focusing on the skills it took to be successful in the role and the values that our team shared were far better predictors of how a candidate would fit in with our team than superficial similarities. By taking a more inclusive approach in our hiring processes, we challenged ourselves to be intentional about our hiring decisions and as a result, built a high performing team that was diverse across race, age, gender, nationality and physical ability.
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