Diversity starts with organizational culture: hiring inclusively in tech - Technical.ly Brooklyn


Feb. 4, 2014 8:45 am

Diversity starts with organizational culture: hiring inclusively in tech

As the moderator, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Vice President for Communities at the Financial Times put it, employers can't look for employees that are just like them, but fit into some sought after identity. That's false diversity.

Photo by Brady Dale

Organizations with diverse workforce have to embrace difference, to the point of people accepting some discomfort with different ways of being, thinking and working. That was the heart of a hiring conversation that took place as part of our Diversity In/Tech event last week, even in the startup phase, as the Harvard Business Review pointed it out.

As the conversation’s moderator, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Vice President for Communities at the Financial Times, put it, employers can’t look for employees that are just like them, but fit into some sought after identity: a female programmer who comes from the same background with the same perspective. That’s false diversity.

The “Building and Hiring a Diverse Workforce” panel took place at Technically Brooklyn’s Diversity In/Tech conference at Bldg 92, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Ishmael moderated the panel, which included Aminatou Sow, Tech LadyMafia cofounder, Erica Sackin of the Mozilla Foundation (we wrote about her work here) and Jocelynne Rainey, Senior Vice President of Workforce Development at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation.

Listen to the full audio of the panel here and find our notes below:


Rainey spoke about the importance of understanding that diversity is a way the whole organization thinks about coworkers. It can’t look for a group of people who all think the same. Here are a variety of similar takeaways from the second panel of the day:

  • Banding together to confront false stereotypes. Sow said that she and her cofounders started Tech LadyMafia because they kept hearing this story that there were so few women who knew how to do math. “That’s not true in my life,” she said.
  • Building internal pipelines around a company. Rainey described an approach Etsy took, creating a hacker school for its junior level women, whether or not it meant they kept working at the company or took those skills elsewhere.
  • Internalizing diversity. Sow addressed an issue that also came up in the third session: how much people with the authority are willing to admit to themselves that we all see the differences between people. She said, “The more inclusive you are, the more your mind expands to the fact that you know so little.”
  • Creating new networks. A part of the vision for Tech LadyMafia was women supporting women, Sow explained. “We didn’t want to kiss up to people. We wanted to kiss down to people.” In other words, members try to pass opportunities on to each other. In particular, if there is a speaking event one can’t do, they try to pass those opportunities along to each other.
  • The power of networks, good and bad. Sackin echoed that, saying that networks of women in technology are what got her into her current role. Rainey agreed but also reminded those who may one day have the power to hire to look beyond networks, because networks tend to be self-replicating.
  • How to undermine prejudice. Ishmael discussed strategies she’s used to make hiring screenings color and gender neutral, by removing identifying information from resumes and cover letters before discussing them with other staff.
  • Subtle bias is not that subtle. Sow also said that she reads job descriptions to look for ways in which the language is gendered.
  • Gendered voices. One member of the audience pointed out that women need to be empowered to stronger self-promoters and men need to learn the ways that their communication style can be uncomfortable for female coworkers. The panel agreed Ishmael pushed workers to call their peers and supervisors on that sort of behavior.

Ishmael pointed out that the crowd was made up of a lot of people who were already bought into the idea of diversity, with a lower incidence of white people and men than are usually seen at tech world events. She said, “Once we leave this conversation, don’t keep them with people that are like minded, but go make someone uncomfortable.”

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Organizations: Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mozilla
People: Aminatou Sow
Projects: Tech LadyMafia
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