It’s Time for Tech Recruiters to Walk the Diversity Talk

By Catherine Skrzypinski November 20, 2020
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young black tech employees

​Business leaders need to ensure that the hiring process is fair to all applicants, yet while many talent acquisition teams now have diversity initiatives in place, they lack strategies for how to find underrepresented minority talent.

According to a 2019 survey by recruiting software startup Gem, 50 percent of talent leaders say building diverse teams is a top 2020 hiring trend.

But a survey by Oakland, Calif.-based Gem found that around 49 percent of recruiters say that finding diverse candidates to interview is their biggest barrier to improving diversity.

Georgena Frazier, recruiting program manager at Gem, advised tech recruiters to confront their unconscious biases and to reconsider indicators of a candidate's success, such as their affiliation with an elite university, their management experience and if they worked at notable tech companies.

"The more you can open your mind in this process, the better," she added.

At the recent 2020 Talent42 Digital conference, talent acquisition leaders said conversations about hiring diverse tech talent must take place while searching, identifying and contacting potential candidates. 

"Don't wait until you're presenting candidates," advised Carmen Hudson, principal consultant at Recruiting Toolbox in Seattle. "Set up times with hiring managers between the times your company is hiring. Have the conversation about what can be learned on the job early and often."

John Vlastelica, founder and managing director at Recruiting Toolbox, explained that the perfect tech candidate doesn't exist. If a candidate exhibits adaptability, curiosity, empathy and a desire to learn, then they can be trained on the more technical aspects of a particular role.

"The notion that there's only one perfect candidate crushes your chances at bringing real diversity into your organization," Vlastelica said. "It reinforces the very thing so many of us are trying to address—that there are actually multiple backgrounds and experiences that can be successful in this kind of role."

Sourcing Underrepresented Talent

Frazier shared the following tips on how to find underrepresented minority talent:

  • Search at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), women's colleges, tribal colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. Also connect with fraternities and sororities with minority members.
  • Look beyond traditional degrees, including coding boot camps like Grace Hopper and Black Girls Code, as well as vocational and trade school programs.
  • Tap into professional organizations, such as the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers and Vets Who Code. Frazier also advised recruiters to partner with organizations that represent minority communities.
  • Seek out candidates with volunteer experience, along with those who have leadership roles at their religious and spiritual affiliations.
  • Use LinkedIn hashtags and join their communities, such as #HireBlack, #LatinxInTech and #LesbiansWhoTech. Then, dig into those groups, and react to posts and discussions. "Be an active member in the community," Frazier said. "Listen more than talk."
  • Grow your personal network and ask for referrals. Even if a prospect isn't the best fit, their networks may have value in the future, she noted.

Moving Beyond Diversity

Vlastelica noted that improving diversity recruitment requires more than sourcing from underrepresented groups.

Hiring leaders and tech recruiters should seek to find "culture-add" candidates rather than those who just fit in with the current company culture, Vlastelica explained. Culture-add employees bring a different point of view that can make a positive impact on an organization.

"You won't build a more diverse company if you hire noninclusive leaders," he said, adding that HR practitioners need to check their gut feelings, biases and stereotypes about candidates. Confirmation bias, likeability and similarity biases are the enemy of inclusive hiring, he added.

"I believe talent is equally distributed, but access and opportunity are not," he said. "Real progress happens when we change the whole system."

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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