How are big companies going to solve diversity in tech?

Fact: the lack of diversity in tech is a problem. I would be concerned if anyone reading this has to ask why it’s a problem, or if they hadn’t noticed there’s a problem, but as much as working in digital is amazing, diversity is still a major elephant in the room at nearly all tech-focussed companies, barring a few notable exceptions.

The first thing to consider is the intentions behind making a drive to support diversity. There are lots of major tech companies that are making open efforts to be as inclusive as possible – such as Facebook committing $15 million to Code.org since from 2016-2021, to help teach students across the US how to code, regardless of colour, background or gender – but it’s worth noting that even Facebook has had little positive change to their own diversity numbers in the US. Silicon Valley is supposed to be the guiding force behind technological advances for the future, yet it still seems that organisations are unaware that asking and talking about diversity doesn’t fix the cultural problems behind it. This is shown most clearly, perhaps, by Google engineer James Damore’s 10-page anti-diversity document stating that women were biologically less capable of working than men. Admittedly, this is definitely on the extreme end of the scale, but ridding companies of this outward sexist, prejudice bias will be a big step towards inclusivity.

Secondly, by not embracing diversity to its fullest capability, companies are unable to hire the best people. Recruiting in the development/engineering field, it’s a clearly candidate-driven, saturated market, in a struggle to find the best people. If that wasn’t the case, I probably wouldn’t have a job and the need for recruiters would be far less. By closing off what they’re looking for and specifying the requirements as much as possible, these companies are unable to help harness the potential of those who haven’t had the chance to go to a top 10 university, be trained in specific languages or have the time to work on significant side projects. Once a company can open their doors to focus more on potential and learning capacity, they’ll find themselves naturally bringing a better working culture both on a software engineering scale and a diversity scale – rather than pushing a hiring policy without addressing cultural awareness.

Lastly, the recruitment and interview process from tech companies (big and small) make no effort to promote diversity. In smaller companies, it is much more common for referrals to be an easier, more convenient way of making a new hire. However, if you have a technical team of 10 who are all white, middle-class males, it is far less likely that the referral will be someone of a more diverse background, let alone will want to work in that cultural environment. As well as this, interview processes (despite already being criticised heavily as an interview method) still often contain a whiteboard test. Whiteboard tests have previously been slated for dissuading female and minority candidates in a process. In 2013, Marc Hedlund – who at the time was the director of engineering at Etsy – commented that a whiteboard test were found to be ‘confrontational’ and also ‘gender-biased’. Since scrapping the whiteboard test for a blind online coding test, Etsy saw their engineering team turn from 3 women out of 100 engineers, to 23 in 165.

I think it’s worth appreciating the major difference between companies with a diverse engineering team and those struggling to fix the imbalance is a genuine, caring approach, rather than focusing on the statistics alone – as well as appreciating that culture is first and foremost the problem. By fixing recruitment and interview strategy and having a better understanding of why engineers would want to work for a specific company will serve organisations far better than just saying ‘we want to be diverse’.

Written by Jack Prior, Consultant – Front-end Development

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