It’s no secret that many tech startups tend to struggle with diversity.
A quick scroll through the “Meet the Team” section of most young companies will often reveal a bunch of smiling, similar looking male faces, with maybe a few women, people of colour, and/or differently abled people here and there.
A big reason for this is unconscious bias, or the idea that our cultural experience can affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Even founders with the best of intentions regarding diversity and inclusion can still fall victim to it.
Countless studies show that bias affects hiring a lot. For instance, if you’re a woman, or have an ethnic sounding name, or wear a religious headscarf, there is academic evidence that shows you will likely have a harder time getting an interview than a caucasian male counterpart.
And this doesn’t just make life tougher for minority job seekers. Companies are also missing out on the benefits of a more diverse team. A 2016 report covering data from 680 founders and tech company executives found that 81 percent of respondents reported “enhanced creativity and innovation” as a result of a diverse workforce.
So how can a startup reduce bias in their recruitment efforts? Experts say that the best approach could be taking the bias out of the hiring process, rather than out of the person. Here are a few tips you can try.
Rewrite your job descriptions
Without even realizing it, you could be turning off applicants with your choice of words. Research shows that masculine adjectives like “competitive,” “determined,” and “dominant,” may signal to women that they would not fit in that type of work environment. Conversely, words like “collaborative” and “cooperative” could be more attractive. Additionally, words like “up and coming” or “fresh,” may imply a preference for younger candidates.
Fortunately, there are software programs that highlight gendered language so you can either replace them with more neutral words or try to create a balance between adjectives. For example, recruiters at Vodafone use the application Textio to take out industry jargon and help bias-proof their processes.
Widen your recruitment pool
Many employers tend to have a recruitment “comfort zone” from which they rarely stray, hiring from the same schools or relying on recommendations from friends and coworkers. While these methods aren’t ineffective, it could lead to getting the same kind of people during each hiring round.
Instead, try posting on a new job site, attending job fairs at a variety of schools, or going to meetups for women who code. You could even do what FinTech company Addepar does and recruit outside your industry. “In many cases, as long as a candidate shares your vision and core values, you can likely teach them job-specific skills and processes,” Addepar CMO Barbara Holzapfel told Fast Company.
Try nameless resume reviews
What’s in a name? A lot, apparently. In one study, applicants with names like Carrie and Kristen received fifty percent more callback interviews than those with names like Keisha and Tamika. Another recent paper found that an applicant with a Turkish name wearing a headscarf had to send 4.5 times as many applications as an applicant with a white name to receive the same number of callbacks for interviews.
A simple way to address this kind of implicit bias is to remove names and any other identifying information from job applications before your team evaluates them. This way, you’re focused on the candidate’s qualifications and talents, not the demographic characteristics that can lead to harmful stereotyping.
Of course, if you don’t want to do this yourself, there are programs that can help. For example, Plum can help you screen applicants with its pre-employment assessment. After applicants take the survey, it uses an algorithm to assign respondents a Match Score based on criteria you define, which saves you time and helps reduce bias.
Interviews are a key component of any hiring process, but they are not always a good predictor of future performance. The blame is usually on unstructured interviews and lack of defined questions. Therefore, making your interviews more structured and asking each candidate the same set of questions can help address this problem.
Of course, sticking to a script can feel a little awkward, and an interviewer’s energy or how they respond to a candidate can affect their performance. In this case, using video interview software like Spark Hire or HireVue for early-round interviews can help. Since the interviews are recorded and use standard questions, you can easily compare candidates and share them with your team to get feedback.
Test your applicants
Getting your candidates to do some kind of work sample test can be a great indicator of future job performance. Plus, since you’re evaluating the candidate’s applied skills and not just their experience or education like you would with a resume, it can also help reduce unconscious bias in your judgment. For example, web-based app Zapier has potential candidates prepare a “short lightning talk” on a topic of their choice, which they present to the whole team.
However, you need to be careful with the type of evaluations you use. For example, whiteboard coding tests have been publicly maligned by programmers and developers for being “demoralizing” and an “unrealistic test of actual ability.” Additionally, since preparing for these types of tests can take weeks, it can put people who don’t have the time to re-memorize lines of code at a disadvantage, further contributing to the diversity problem.
As one coding instructor aptly stated, “If you’re busy working and raising kids, you want to spend as much of your scarce time as possible learning to code — not performing rote memorization that won’t matter once you start your job.” A better way to test coding skills would be to use an app like Codility to assign tasks or simply allow your applicants to complete a challenge within 24 hours, like a take-home exam.
Hire by committee
Diversifying your team starts with your hiring team itself. With many startups, big hiring decisions are made by the founders. After all, with such a small team, who else would do it? However, as your team begins to grow beyond the initial founding members, so should your hiring committee.
For example, ZestFinance has no hiring manager. All decisions are made by committee, and a designated team also evaluates candidates on culture fit. “This way, many people with diverse perspectives are involved in hiring decisions, and all employees rally around a new [team member] to make them feel comfortable and enable them to succeed,” ZestFinance CEO Douglas Merrill told Fast Company.
Reducing bias, one step at a time
Shifting the needle to improve diversity and inclusion in startups won’t happen overnight. In fact, research shows that the majority of founders understand the importance of diversity, yet rarely reflect it in their ranks or have practices and policies in place to improve the situation.
But as you can see from the above suggestions, a few small changes in your hiring process can lead to big wins for your company and minority applicants alike.
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